When life throws an unexpected curveball, it can be difficult to manage the effects of stress on the body. Some people reach for lavender essential oil, others will pick up a bowl of ice cream, but have you considered exercising as a form of stress management? From brain chemistry to behavior, your body was designed to use exercise as a tool in reducing stress.
Effects on the Brain
When you exercise, you’re doing more than just working up a sweat! Exercise stimulates the brain’s production of endorphins, the “happy hormone” that boosts your mood and reduces pain. At the same time, the levels of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, decrease. When these processes work together, they are creating a balanced mind that allows you to think clearly without the fog of stress.
For those who struggle with anxiety, one of the most common coping mechanisms is a distraction. Exercise diverts your brain from thinking about the stressful experience and feelings to instead focusing on the rhythm of the movement. The simple act of concentrating on your movement produces optimism, calmness, and clarity. In many cases, consistent exercise over a long period of time can have lasting positive effects on one’s mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic proved that social isolation is one of the most harmful things that a person can do, especially in times of stress. Joining a team or participating in a fitness class helps you to stay physically active while getting the all-important social interaction that can help decrease anxiety and stress levels. Not only will this keep your mental health in check, but it also provides an opportunity for you to stay accountable with your fitness goals.
How Much You Need
The recommendation for moderate-intensity exercise is 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week. Wondering how you can tell if your exercise is the right intensity level? Try the talk test. If you can talk, but not sing, you’re exercising at a moderate intensity. But there’s other important ways to exercise your body if you aren’t quite ready for that yet. You should be stretching all major muscle groups at least twice a week and work on your balance at least twice a week. When you work on your balance, stretching, and strengthening, you will find that over time, you can increase your intensity level during exercise. And when you’re exercising your body, you’re taking care of your mind.
When Exercise Causes Stress
When the body is in pain, the mind is not far behind. Injuries or chronic conditions can make exercise seem defeating and hopeless. If you notice that you’re in pain during or after exercise, an evaluation with a physical therapist can help you take back your life so you can enjoy the activities that bring you joy. Contact Performance Physical Therapy at 401-726-7100 for more information or to schedule an appointment.