Before we can make sense of how exercise can help us deal with stress better, it will be useful to understand the physiology of stress and how it affects us.
Needless to say, a great starting point is to highlight that the best way to deal with stress is to reduce your stress drivers and how you deal with them. Let us encourage you to look at those in your daily life and seek the support of qualified therapists in these area.
To support your changes, exercise is a great tool to improve your body’s capacity to absorb the effects of stress.
At a physiological level, stress is a desired response designed for a “fight or flight” situation. The physiological process that is triggered to help us deal with such an event is described below, but its important to keep in mind that it should occur over short durations, and then ‘dealt’ with (by fighting or running!).
The result is the release of adrenaline which is almost instantaneous and increases alertness and cortisol, which peaks at about 15-30 min after the start of the stress trigger. The whole point of these responses is to give us the required energy to deal with the situation at hand, by elevating blood pressure, increasing blood sugar (for energy) and decreasing most other non-essential systems. the problem in our modern western settings is that we don’t face too many ‘acute’ (short lasting) triggers (such as a threatening animal, etc), but rather longer lasting chronic stresses, such as work and financial pressures. In the ‘acute’ settings, increased physical activity was the way we dealt with the threat – i.e. by fighting or escaping – this would then help diffuse the physiological effects of stress mentioned above.
In our chronic western settings we don’t deal with stress in a physical manner. As a matter of fact we all well know that the amount of exercise we do is consistently decreasing, and even more so the busier we are. So we don’t often get to diffuse the heightened physiological responses. The result is chronically elevated levels of cortisol, which lead to Hypertension, Insulin resistance, and OBESITY.
So what is exercise good for? firstly it directly helps to reduce the physiological effects of stress, as we know that it will reduce insulin resistance, lead to hormonal responses that relax blood vessels, and use up excess blood sugar (and fat) for energy! Further more, through exercise the body becomes more physiologically efficient at dealing with the stress hormones in the first place. In addition you get all the emotional feel-good benefits of being active, a sense of achievement, and the opportunity to enjoy time doing something good for yourself!
so, don’t delay, get out there and MOVE!!!
In an earlier post we promised to outline the many benefits that exercise can provide you, and this is our time to deliver! now, before your eyes roll back in boredom, I have to tell you that the more that we look at this the more exciting and brilliant this concept of moving your body becomes!!
To be honest, over the last couple of months I’ve fallen in love all over again with my profession. I get the incredible opportunity to make people’s bodies healthier on a day to day basis by simply making them move at intensities and complexities greater than they are used to!
Another thing that I’d like to clarify is what exercise is NOT good for. My point here is, as is published in an earlier post, that I find it a shame that people become disillusioned with exercise because they expected their 5 visits to the gym to provide them with results that are unrealistic. check out the linked blog article http://informhealth.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/the-balance-between-diet-and-exercise-in-weight-and-fat-loss/ for more on the balance between nutrition and exercise to lose weight. as it indicates, exercise alone results in relatively small weight loss when compared to dietary changes. BUT what is exercise good for then in this case??
now, outlining the many benefits of exercise is a massive undertaking, so we’ll be taking you along on an exploration journey over the next few weeks as we let you in on some fantastic evidence.
Back to our topic for today – the effect of exercise on weight loss: as stated in the linked article, exercise can help reduce as much as half a kilo of fat per week with a gruelling schedule. Very importantly we do know that exercise provides you with the best protection against weight GAIN! therefore being one of the best prevention strategies against the obesity epidemic. There’s a range of physiological reasons that help to explain this:
Exercise, especially resistance training (lifting weights) helps maintain and/or increases your lean body mass (muscle), which means you have a bigger ‘engine’ to burn more energy on a day to day basis.
Exercise, especially at high intensities, results in your cells being more effective fat burners, so not only are you burning fat while you exercise, but also during the rest of the day – try interval based training to maximise this!
Another great mechanism is that exercise makes you more insulin sensitive, meaning that you are better able to metabolise (burn) energy and are less likely to store fat as a result.
Now how is that for a start on getting you excited about getting more active?! next week we’ll tell you about the benefits of exercise on stress management and sleep quality.
till then! in the mean time, if you have any questions on this don’t hesitate to contact our Exercise Physiologists at http://www.informhealth.com