Managing stress with exercise


The body's response to stress is based on primitive times when humans were frequently exposed to physical danger, such as an attack from a wild animal whilst hunting. Often referred to as the 'fight or flight' response, the body will increase the release of two key hormones when in danger - adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones cause temporary changes in your body such as increased heart rate and blood pressure that help you to either escape from or confront the threat.

Now fast-forward to the modern day and the physical threats have largely disappeared, only to be replaced by psychological ones - the everyday stresses of modern life. The problem, however, is that our modern stresses tend to be far more continuous than the occasional physical dangers that our primitive ancestors faced and so raised heart rate and blood pressure become a part of the norm - increasing our risk of heart attack, stroke and hypertension.

The ultimate stress buster

One of the most effective stress management strategies you can employ is exercise. Not only is it good for you physically, it also helps you to cope better with stress by reducing your levels of stress hormones.

Exercise also increases your body's levels of endorphins - sometimes called the 'happy hormones'. As endorphin levels increase, you gain a feeling of wellbeing, better appetite control and an enhanced immune function - all of which combine to help you overcome the negative effects of stress.

Change your focus

The type of exercise you take generally makes little difference as far as relieving stress is concerned. Most importantly, choose a form of exercise that you enjoy - as well as increasing the likelihood of you keeping it up, it will make you feel more positive as well as distract you from the sources of your stress as a pleasant diversion.

If your stress takes the form of frustration, you might be experiencing low-level anger and so carrying out a more intense form of exercise could serve you well. Weight training, martial arts and boxing can all provide a great release for unhealthy negative emotions, converting them into extra motivation instead.

Live life to the full

Besides feeling physically fitter and being better equipped to deal with stress, exercise can improve your self esteem by helping to keep your weight under control and boosting your immune system so you are less likely to succumb to infections and minor illnesses. Exercising with a friend has the added advantage of enhancing your social life, and being part of a group or a class is likely to increase the chances that you will maintain your new stress-busting exercise programme.