How can exercise help relieve stress?

What is stress?

Stress is a natural reaction of your body to your experiences. Stress is necessary to keep you productive and can in short term situations be beneficial to your health. Stress is the way your body helps you to cope during hard times, but too much stress, especially long term, can take a toll on your health. 

Stressors of some kind have been found to be the most common cause of disease and illness, as well as a compounding factor for existing health issues. It is important to note that stress is primarily a subjective experience and based upon an individual’s previous experiences and perceived coping resources. What you find stressful, another may not, it’s the reaction and not the stimulus itself that affects your wellness.

Types of stress

Stress occurs in reaction to a variety of different stimulus called stressors. The reaction can be acute meaning short term or chronic meaning long term. Stress can continue even after the initial stimulus is removed and be triggered again through other stimuli. Chronic stress is the most harmful to your body and mind. 

A stressor is any stimulus that elicits stress. Different stressors on the body might include high workload, little sleep, poor nutrition, loss of a loved one, natural disaster, poor environmental quality, lack of socialisation or break down of relationships, going on holiday, doing your taxes, getting married, getting divorced, or even going on a first date. The list is endless and will be different for everybody.

How does stress affect the body?

Stress is physiological and psychological. During stress, your nervous system triggers the releases of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline which act as messages to your organs. This tells your body to switch to “fight or flight” mode. In this state, your body stops unnecessary or accessory functions like digestion and allocates all available resources to readying you for confrontation, a primal response. Your vision narrows, your heart rate and respiratory rate increase, your liver releases its sugar stores and your blood vessels constrict. All of this is helpful in a short term situation, your reaction speed is quicker and you’re ready for anything the world will throw at you. When the stress subsides your body will return to your resting state.

When your body is under stress for long periods and therefore stays in this heightened state it can cause serious damage. People who experience chronic stress are more likely to suffer from headaches, digestion issues, have a higher risk of heart attack,  high blood pressure, type II diabetes, insomnia, depression and have weakened immune systems. 

Exercise can help you cope with stress

Regular exercise helps to relieve stress and tension. After you exercise you release endorphins which makes you feel excited and happy, this can help to combat your immediate daily stress. 

Exercise in itself is a type of stress, during which your body reacts in the same way you would to any other stressor. The difference is it’s controlled. Think of it as conditioning, short bursts of controlled stress that you can learn to overcome and be rewarded for with that lovely endorphin boost. When you’re exercising, you’re teaching your body how to cope with stress so that when a stressor you’re not in control of arises, your body’s psychological response is “I know I can overcome this and when I do it’ll feel great”. 

At Shape PT your regular personal training is more than just conditioning your muscles and sculpting your body. It’s about conditioning your mind to know that you may not be in control of what’s going on outside, but you sure can control your reaction to it and that’s how you reduce the effect that stress has on your body.

How can the Shape PT community help you reduce stress

When your body is under stress like when you exercise you release a hormone called oxytocin, which plays a key role in socialisation it is often referred to as the “love hormone”. During stress, oxytocin motivates you to seek support, and in turn, if you’re able to build relationships during a time of stress it’s been shown that given the same level of stressors the correlated risk of disease and illness is almost completely reduced. In short, the connections you build with others at Shape PT  could be protective against disease and illness!

This is why at Shape PT we believe in building strong relationships with our clients and our client’s building relationships with each other. We’ve created an environment for you that fosters that sense of community, which can provide more than just physical benefits.

Written by Patricia Hurley