Stress is something that impacts all of us all throughout our lives. Continuously high levels of stress are associated with a variety of health problems such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and depression. Exercising is a great way to help manage stress effectively. But how does working out relieve stress? Let’s look at least eight reasons to be engaged in exercise or working out as a way to manage stress.
1. Reducing Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is a type of hormone that is also commonly referred to as hydrocortisone. Virtually every cell in your body has cortisol receptors and it plays a key role in several important processes like controlling blood sugar levels and metabolism.
Cortisol is a natural compound that has many beneficial properties. However, too much cortisol can cause weight gain. Working out regularly helps to naturally reduce cortisol levels and improve feelings of well being and reduce stress.
2. Releasing Endorphins: “The Feel Good Chemicals”
Endorphins are a type of chemical and are produced naturally in the brain. known. They attach to a variety of opiate receptors throughout the body to help reduce your perception of pain. Working out releases the endorphins we need to feel better and have a sense of reduced stress. And unlike prescription narcotics, endorphins do not have any lasting effects and do not cause dependency. The great news is these feel-good chemicals are completely natural and help manage stress-induced aches and pains. And, you do not need a prescription to get them!
3. Managing Stress and Anxiety: Your Freeze, Fight or Flight Responses
When our stress is long lasting and begins to feel like a full blown anxiety problem we can begin to experience reactions known as freeze, fight or flight. These responses have an evolutionary characteristic and developed over many years to help humans escape potentially harmful situations. For example, if you saw a bear you would need to engage in a decision about the freeze, fight or flight, and fast! But even though many of us no longer see bears in the wild we still get triggered by stress and feelings of anxiety when we have to perform, such as during a job interview or a family crisis. We can even experience this stress response in good stress situations where we feel overwhelmed, such as in a high stakes competition. When it occurs, a rush of natural chemicals is released that trigger elevated heart rate and other physical characteristics that can aid in your escape from danger.
Unfortunately, modern lifestyles regularly activate our fight or flight response without any actual danger being present. To counteract this, it is important to work out regularly to burn off the chemicals that are released throughout your stressful day. This is very important in overall health management for the mind and body.
4. Working Out Gets You Into Your Own Rhythm
How does working out or exercise relieve stress? Often when we get active we naturally get into a deeper, more consistent breathing rhythm. Numerous studies have shown that various styles of breathing exercises can help reduce stress and help manage mood symptoms. Working out assists you oftentimes with breathing in a controlled fashion following a regular pattern.
Besides yoga, working out for an extended period can help you create your own breathing rhythm routine. As you jog or lift weights, remember to take in and release controlled breaths throughout your workout to help melt the stress away.
5. Helps Your Social Life
Working out can be a great way to be involved socially. Working out with friends and family members gives you an opportunity to meet people or get to know people and form strong social bonds. You can even find yourself talking about productive about personal problems in this arena while at the same time releasing any stress or pent-up frustrations.
Having a close group of friends to workout with also helps you commit to going to the studio or exercise class regularly for your workouts. This has the added benefit of helping with weight loss and other fitness goals which can further reduce stress levels.
6. Helps You Get Better Sleep
Getting good sleep is yet another way to reduce stress. Lack of adequate sleep is one of the biggest causes of depression, low energy levels, and perpetual stress. This has been proven to be particularly problematic for night shift workers. However, this can impact anyone who has difficulties falling asleep or who wake up regularly throughout the night.
Working out can help you feel more tired and naturally relieve the pent-up stress you have acquired throughout the day. For best results, time your workouts at least two to three hours before bedtime to give your body time to wind down and prepare for bed.
7. Helps with Clarity and Getting Organized
Some people might find that exercise is associated with some mental benefits of clarity. This means if you know you are exercising you might better organize your time and have to prioritize what needs to be done since you are scheduled to meet others or go workout on your own. Working out regularly can help set the foundation for a solid schedule by giving you specific blocks of time throughout the week to focus on yourself. I like to say that working out clears the clutter in my mind.
To maximize the effectiveness of this strategy, consider devoting at least two to three days a week to your workout routine. Thirty minutes to an hour are good markers for most people to experience lasting results with a day or two of rest between. Once you’ve created your workout schedule you might find you actually get more done with less stress and more clarity and energy.
8. Boosts Your Confidence
Two common contributors to stress are lack of confidence and feelings of dissatisfaction with your own body. This is very common for those who have struggled with their weight and are looking for ways to improve their overall health.
So how does working out relieve stress? Regular workouts can help boost your confidence in many ways: you see yourself taking care of your body, the naturally occurring endorphins kick in, and if you work out with others you add a social component which is huge for feeling connected. Remember to take your time with any lifestyle change to help increase the likelihood that your workout program will succeed. Try to focus on mini milestones throughout your fitness journey to help push you to continue your program. These might include doing a walk-run for 20 minutes and slowly working to 30 minutes. Or, increasing your days of activity from three to four days per week. Research shows that the first few days of building a new habit are important but if you miss a day it also does not signal an end. Get back out the next day.