Numerous research has been conducted over the years on the effects of exercise to combat and reduce stress. In my own practice working with corporate workers, I have witnessed firsthand the damaging physiological effects of stress; soaring blood pressure, panic attacks, dry mouth, tension, tight chest, sweating are only some of the early symptoms which develop as a result of stress.
Exercise is an amazing prescription to combat stress. It serves as a circuit breaker, interrupting the negative feedback loop from the body to the brain that heightens anxiety in a stressful situation. Exercise increases brain function and neurotransmitters within the brain, allowing stronger and healthier neural connections.
Exercise also boosts dopamine, which improves mood and feelings of wellness and jump-starts the attention system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter within the brain. Its function is to regulate movement, emotion, motivation and the feeling of pleasure. It is the reward centre of the brain.
Serotonin is equally affected by exercise. It regulates mood, impulse control and self esteem. It helps offset stress by counteracting cortisol which we spoke about earlier being the stress hormone. Researchers noted that exercise spikes levels of dopamine and norepinephrine (stress hormone) for up to 1 hour – 90 minutes, allowing calm and clarity within the body.
The best form of exercise will be that which nourishes your body. You should feel energised and revitalised an hour after the activity. Over the years, I have incorporated many various forms of exercise into my daily regime. In my youth, it consisted primarily of cardio based exercise such as running, cycling and tennis. I then moved into resistance training during my twenties. These days in my late thirties I’ve found incorporating yoga and meditation as a form of relaxation and movement in my routine. I am energised and feel my muscles being stretched and toned as I adopt certain poses. It is also calming for the mind and requires some degree of practice and discipline. I don’t think I was ready for yoga when I was in my twenties, since I was focussed on fast movements that required exertion.
Depending on where you are with you health and wellbeing will largely be influenced by age. I would encourage you to find activities that you enjoy first of all. I found over the years my clients hated going to the gym for many reasons. Like most things in life, we avoid those things we’re not proficient at. Once we develop some learning and practise around it, we invariably become better and develop self confidence along the way.
Exercises that will serve you well will include some kind of resistance based training, cardio and yoga. Each one address different functions within the body. Teamed with sound nutritional and sleep etiquette, you’ll undoubtedly find your life enriched through regular movement.
I have overheard people expressing how tired and lazy they felt when they didn’t exercise for a period of time. Sometimes life takes over and we find ourselves travelling or inundated with work and family commitments. The key is to strike a balance and not allow one area to overshadow the other. Allow exercise to be habit forming in your life. If you’re reading this and just starting out, give yourself some time to find your rhythm with what serves you best. There’s no rush to get there quickly.