Like taxes, stress is a part of everyone’s life. The “experts” tell us that some stress is good because without it there would be no motivation to do anything! However, if you are like me, serious stress and anxiety makes me feel bad physically – I am unable to eat. This can’t be good!
For most of us, stress is low-level most of the time. Our daily tasks and relationships give us a bit of stress but not major anxiety. The body’s response to low-level stressors is designed to motivate us to action with a slightly raised heart rate and increased mental clarity –similar to the response to caffeine.
In times where stress levels go higher, the responses are what many people call the “fight or flight” response. The body sends blood to the extremities to get ready for action! These responses are normal and good for you – except when the stress levels remain high for a long time. When the body perpetually stays in a stressed state, the systems begin to break down. Think of it like a car engine where the throttle is stuck and the engine is constantly “revved up”. Not only will it consume A LOT of gasoline, but the mechanical parts will wear out faster.
So what to do to protect ourselves from this? RELAX of course….and EXERCISE. Exercise helps us relax both physiologically and, if it’s enjoyable, provides a mental escape from the stressor. The physiological effects of exercise include release of morphine-like chemicals (which include beta-endorphins) that give us a sense of well being. Have you ever heard the term Runner’s High? This is caused by the release of “endorphins” into the blood. Since these chemicals stay in the blood for several hours after stopping the activity, the “feel good” feeling remains for a while.
OK, so we know why exercise can help with anxiety and stress. But what are some of the ways regular exercise keeps us healthy in normal, low-level stress, times?
Here’s some from the top of my head: