Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Does Exercise Reduce Stress?

( I got a lot of this from an article, but I can't remember where......)

We've all heard of "walking off" tension, or "blowing off steam" at the gym. But does working out really relieve stress?  The answer is yes — for reasons both physical and psychological, immediate and long-term. Once you get the scoop on the impact it can have, you might just want to run out and work up a sweat! Here are some of the ways exercise can help your state of mind:
1. It's a Great Release
First of all, physical activity uses up the flood of extra energy that's biologically hard-wired into our stress response — designed to fuel our ancestors through fight-or-flight situations like getting chased by a bear. Today, "we're worrying about more complex survival issues," points out biofeedback expert Dr. Andrew Elmore, "but our bodies react in the same reflexive way by releasing all this energy, which in the modern world we call anxiety. If I worry about paying the rent and my heart starts pounding, it doesn't help me pay the rent. Exercise is a way of using that energy — even if it doesn't solve your problems — to make your body stronger, to burn calories, which is a good thing."
2. It Provides a "High"
But that's just the tip of the chill-out iceberg. Exercise can be a system-wide "quick fix" to help counteract the physical effects of the stress response. "Aerobic exercise increases the body's production of natural, morphine-like painkillers called endorphins," says Dr. Christian VanDenBerg, Director of the Executive Health Program at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. "And physical activity does a lot of metabolic things that are beneficial. It also improves your brain's oxygen supply."
3. It Reduces Tension
Even less aerobic forms of physical activity, such as simple stretching, can relax the body and release stress. "One way we store tension is by habitually contracting our muscles," explains Cathy Calderon, director of the Shambhala Yoga and Dance Center. "Stretching helps release that tension, and the nervous system starts to send calming messages to the body. If you're sitting at a computer all day, lift up your arms and stretch your shoulders; do a couple of head rolls. You will release so much built-up tension in the neck and shoulders."
4. It Clears Your Mind
Working out also offers psychic benefits. "One of the best reducers of stress is a sense of confidence," points out psychologist Dr. Fred Luskin of the Stanford Forgiveness Project. "And you can get through a stressful situation with a lot more confidence if you know you can go for a run afterward." Exercise provides a "time-out" that can be crucial to getting some perspective on your worries. "A major point of working out is that you get to focus on something outside your normal realm of problems," observes Doug Firestone, director of the Aikido of Westchester dojo in New York. "If someone's trying to throw you down on the aikido mat, it's hard to let your mind wander to anything else."
5. It Gives You Strength
In the long run, regular physical activity is one of your body's best defenses against the wear and tear of chronic stress. From lowering your blood pressure and heart rate to invigorating your immune system, exercise "simply strengthens the resiliency of your body's systems so they can handle stress better," Dr. Luskin says. "It takes more to challenge the equilibrium of a fit person than a couch potato." In other words, the stronger and healthier you are, the better you can deal with whatever life throws your way.

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aron said...

i definitely think it reduces stress!

Diana said...

I know it does because I've been restricted from working out due to some surgery and it's a killer to the mind and the body. In fact a lot with the mind. I finally ran today for the first time in 3 weeks and it was just what I needed!

Fair Weather Runner said...

I am, point of fact, %83 less stressed today because I worked out and ran. I have quite a load of stress lately, working out (which I often do with friends) keeps me sane and helps me focus (i have a little bit of the a.d.d.)

And YES, indeed I did literally eat the entire package. Never underestimate the power of a fair weather runner ;)

OH and are you doing the race next Saturday? I am for sure, and think a few of the other FWR's are as well. If you are (and is Adam?) you should meet up with us. I'm not going out too speedy since I have the full coming up so soon. (clearly I don't believe in using email...)

Rookie on the Run said...

Great post!

I'm with Diana... I haven't been able to run and I see such a difference in my stress-level, my contentment, and overall well-being. I can't wait to run again!

RunToFinish said...

IT IS SOOOO TRUE!! I swear by it for post work stress...during the day stress...bad night of sleep stress.. ok you get it

christina said...

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