How exercise can help combat and manage stress


Studies show that seven out of every 10 American adults experience stress or anxiety on a daily basis. Although some stresses can be nearly impossible to totally eliminate, you can learn easy and healthy ways to manage them.

An old idea, still good
Using exercise to relieve physical and mental stress harks back to influential public figures of the past. The Greek philosopher Plato once said, "Exercise would cure a guilty conscience." Alexander Pope, an influential 18th-century literary scholar and poet, once said, "Strength of mind is exercise, not rest."

Mental and physical stress can surface through workplace factors, personal grievances, body aches and pains, among other things. Finding the proper outlet can be taxing when you are forced to juggle so much. But exercise has been a way of reducing any types of stress that the world throws at you for a long time. It not only tests your physical limitations, but it also conditions your body to become healthier.

As reported in Harvard Men's Health Watch, exercise can reduce mental stress while increasing physical and mental awareness through neurochemical reactions:

"Exercise reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, i.e. adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins in the brain…the body's natural pain killers and mood boosters."

Aerobic exercise can reduce stress because it has a direct effect on your heart health and mental clarity. Experts in fitness agree that exercise is one of the most sought-after, yet difficult, routines to include in one's daily life if your body is not used to exercise. The resulting physical stress can lead you to reject the idea that exercise is helping you.

Building new habits
If you consistently follow your exercise routine, though, "you'll begin to tolerate exercise, then enjoy it, and finally [come]to depend on it [for relief]." As Harvard Men's Health Watch put it, "Regular aerobic exercise…has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, provide stimulation and calm, counter depression and dissipate stress."

Experts have said that getting regular exercise is a form of leisure in which one can simply "get away" from the outside world and focus on active play. Regardless of the exercise you choose, like jogging or sports, you are causing physical stress to your body while distracting your mind. This allows you to free yourself from the burden of stress you had while keeping your body and mind open to enjoy what you're doing.

According to healthy lifestyle advice from the Mayo Clinic, exercise is a form of "meditation in motion." As your mind and body are absorbed in the task of exercising, stress diminishes. The act of reflecting on what you are doing instead of dwelling on your stress is a form of meditation because you have cleared out those cloudy irritations that were holding your spirits hostage.

Experts agree
Using regular exercise to combat stress is the coping mechanism most recommended by health experts. As reported by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), regular exercise can "decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects."

Whether stress is caused by your workload, physical maladies, mental impressions or the daily tasks of just trying to make it in this world, remember that exercise can be a beneficial outlet. Not only can it provide relief of mental and physical stress, but it can certainly transition to the rest of your daily tasks. For instance, weight training to relieve stress can improve your body's physical strength. This transitions to being able to easily handle carrying, lifting, or moving objects at work that requires physical labor. Squats do more than just strengthen your lower body; they make climbing a flight of stairs an easier task as well.

Exercise and stress relief go hand in hand when you want to lead a healthy, productive and balanced lifestyle. After regular exercise, the greatest benefit that many are ecstatic over are the physical results, one's looks. As star athletes often say during interviews, regarding the importance of physical training, "If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you do good."


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