Stress is an inevitable part of living. It assaults us at different times of our lives and at varying degrees of intensity. While some people may experience stress at manageable levels, many people are subjected to high levels of stress on a daily basis. With increasing demands in career and social interactions, it comes as no surprise that more and more people are subjected to stressful situations.
True, stress is impossible to completely eliminate but it can be managed and even reduced. One of the best ways to actively target stress is through healthy living and exercise. Studies show that regular physical activity not only improves the body, it also helps improve the power of the mind.
How Does Exercise Work Against Stress?
1.) Increased Levels of Endorphins
Endorphins are neurochemicals that are produced in the pituitary gland and in the hypothalamus of the brain. Structurally, endorphins are similar to morphine and interestingly work in the same manner in that these natural hormones also relieve pain. Endorphins do this by activating opioid receptors found in the brain to reduce discomfort.
During exercise, the brain produces endorphins and increases the feeling of comfort, general well-being and even euphoria. Furthermore, it also helps relieve pain. This may explain the reason that people who perform intense exercises such as long-distance running experience what is known as “runner’s high”, and people who exercise regularly are better at managing pain.
2.) Improving Mood
Physical exercise is tiring because it demands much from the mind and body. However, regular activity can help people become better at relaxation and even experience reduced symptoms related to conditions such as anxiety and depression. People who exercise more are not likely to give in during stressful situations and are more likely to manage the situation well.
3.) Better Sleep
Regular exercise helps relax both the body and mind, thus improving sleep in terms of quality and quantity. When people sleep well, they are least likely to wake up cranky. They are also more alert mentally and physically, thus reducing their vulnerability to stress for the rest of the day.
4.) Improved Memory
Exercise is also responsible for the production of norepinephrine, another type of neurochemical that aids in proper cognitive function, and improved learning and mood. It is a known fact that stress interferes with thinking and memory. When exposed to constant stress, the human brain can even atrophy, particularly the part of the brain called the hippocampus which is responsible for memory. This explains why people who work and live in highly stressful environments develop poor memory.
When the body produces norepinephrine, cognitive function is improved, along with one’s ability to learn new information. Increased reserves of neurochemicals improves the ability of the brain to send signals or messages to the body. These neurochemicals also help improve the ability of the body to perform – in this case, manage stress.
5.) Allow Body Systems to Work in Sync
When the body is under stress, the major systems of the body (muscular, nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory, etc.) have to interact properly to help a person manage stress. With regular exercise, these body systems are challenged, thus improving their seamless interaction significantly. In effect, these systems learn to work together better. As a result, the body will have a better capability to manage stress without breaking down.
6.) Improved Social Interaction
Most people prefer to do physical exercises with a partner or a group. People who go for a group run or join a spin class not only enjoy the benefits of a great workout, they also interact and socialize with others, many of whom may also be experiencing stress in their personal lives and career. Being able to interact with other people is helpful in many ways. For one, it helps an individual unburden himself of day-to-day triggers that lead to anxiety and for another, it helps improve a person’s feeling of well-being that comes when he is part of a group. Furthermore, knowing that one’s problems are similar to others’ also helps eliminate feelings of negativity.
7.) Improve Confidence and Self-Image
Regular exercise helps people achieve a level of fitness that makes them look good and feel better. People who have lost weight the healthy way look fit and firm, and are more likely to feel confident about themselves. Since they are more capable of handling stressful situations, they are also more likely to have a healthy self-image.
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