“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” – Joseph Addison
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 clients, I have witnessed firsthand the damaging physiological effects of stress; soaring blood pressure, panic attacks, dry mouth, tension, tight chest, sweating are 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 is 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 should nourish 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. Throughout my early adult life, it primarily consisted of cardio exercise such as running, cycling and tennis. I subsequently progressed toward resistance training in my twenties.
Now in my early forties, I have incorporated yoga and meditation as a form of relaxation and movement in my routine. I feel energised, as my muscles are stretched and toned during a number of yoga poses. It is simultaneously calming for the mind and requires a degree of practice and discipline. I was not ready for yoga when I was in my twenties, since I was predominantly focussed on fast movement exercises that required exertion.
Your health and exercise regime will largely be influenced by age. I encourage you to find activities you enjoy first and foremost. I discovered over the years that many of my clients disliked attending the gym for numerous reasons. Like most things, we tend to avoid those that which we’re not proficient at. Once we develop a degree of learning and practise, we invariably become better and develop self confidence along the way.
Exercises that will serve you well will include types of resistance based training, mild forms of cardio and yoga. Each one address different functions within the body. Teamed with sound nutritional and sleep etiquette, you will undoubtedly find your life enriched through regular movement.
Over the years, 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 may find ourselves travelling or inundated with work and family commitments. The key is to find balance by not allowing one area to overshadow the other. Allow exercise to be habit forming in your life. If you are new to exercise, allow yourself some time to find your rhythm with what serves you best. I can assure there is no rush to get there quickly.