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Send Stress & Those Pesky Pounds Packing with Exercise

Eva Ressler

A woman asleep with her head on top of a stack of books.

Send Stress & Those Pesky Pounds Packing with Exercise

It’s commonly accepted advice: sweat it out to clear your head. But, recent findings are revealing that the stress-sizzling benefits of exercise are affecting us long after our post-workout recovery shake.

The kids need their school pictures taken, the dog is sick again, the contractor called and delayed the countertop job, and the gas gauge just went RED.  Stress comes at us from every angle of every day in a multitude of shapes, sizes, smells (yikes!), and sources.  Complications from the car to the cat make our lives crazy and our stress is anything but simple.

But it used to be such an uncomplicated thing:

The body underwent stress, a physical reaction occurred, the stress subsided, the body returned to the status quo.  Stressors were simpler too—in a primitive sense.  If Tony the Saber-toothed Tiger came prowling around, the mind alerted the body, the body underwent a physical change necessary to escape, crisis averted, return to resting state. So, back when our prehistoric buds were stressed, their survival depended on a physical reaction to the stress.  Now, though, as more and more of our common stressors—from bombs over Baghdad to bringing home the bacon—are less-than-physical in nature, the bodily reaction is not only inessential but may even be harmful.

Am I stressing you out yet?  It gets deeper:

Despite the fact that our stressors are commonly not physical in nature, we’re still physically reacting to them; and because these non-physical stress bombs are not physically overcome, the stress lingers, and the body, more often than not, remains in that physically stressed-out state.

And, over time, here’s what that means:

One of the hormones that gets released in a body’s reaction to stress is cortisol. Large, continuous amounts of cortisol in the body, it’s been shown, urges the body to store more abdominal fat. Since the stress we usually face these days comes at us day in and day out, the body remains in the reactive state and produces more and more cortisol and the cycle wages on. So, along with the bills, the bulge becomes a source of stress as well.

Besides the aesthetic detraction of a little extra ‘round the middle, chronic stress puts the body at a higher risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, depression, and even some cancers.

Now, one might think since the stress society is faced with is largely mental—thinking away the stress mentally would solve the problem and return the body to a pre-stress state….right?  It might not always be possible to think one ’s self calm.

But, there’s hope. I promise!

Some people are already on to the exercise-as-stress-relief methodology.  Rough day at work?  Some people hit the gym for a gut-busting, sweat-dripping kickboxing session.  Others might lace up their trusty mud-stained sneaks for a mind-clearing, miles-long run through the park.  Whatever the routine, countless people tote the instant stress relief that comes with a good sweat session.  What these fit folks don’t realize, though, is just how long those benefits last.

Recent studies have examined the long-lasting effects that are being revealed when it comes to stress and exercise. Not only did those runners, cyclists, boxers, and the like feel instantly refreshed after their run, it turns out the anxiety-busting paybacks came in even longer-lasting dividends. After a six-week study at the University of Colorado, it was found that, compared with a set of sedentary stressed-out subjects, the active participants’ bodies reacted less dramatically in the future during stressful situations.

This is your brain.  This is your brain on stress: !$#@%^I.  This is your brain on exercise:  *soft chirping, brook babbling, gentle breezes*.  The science suggests that the cardio workouts can actually alter the brain’s reaction so that in the future the body is actually more resistant to the stress hormones and the physical effects!

To reap these long-term effects, though, your efforts need to be long-term as well.  Consider exercise your free anti-anxiety prescription and indulge often.  It takes time to change the brain, but with the cardio cache you build up, your strength at dealing with stress also increases.  Consistency is key so keep at it.  If you don’t use it, you may lose it.

While it’s impossible to eliminate the stress of everyday life completely, you CAN arm yourself against its risky side-effects.  Lace up, get out, and keep going!

References

Goad, Kimberly. “Stop Stress for Good.” Fitness . Sep. 2010: 127-133. Print.

About the Author

Eva, a graduate from University of Iowa, is currently working as a Health Coach with the HealthCheck360 wellness program.  Since graduation with a Communication Studies major and Spanish minor, Eva was certified as a Nutrition and Wellness Consultant by the American Fitness Professionals and Associates.  Her passion for nutrition is outweighed perhaps only by her religious fitness regimen and love of writing.  As a Health Coach with HealthCheck360, Eva is able to implement her love and passion or all of these things to help others achieve their goals and better their personal health.  HealthCheck360, which is stationed in Dubuque, IA and led by Michael Kelly, is a Health Risk Assessment program that deals with clients in 49 states currently.  Through objective biometric screening and comprehensive assessment, HealthCheck360 provides companies and their employees the tools, awareness, and empowerment to become their best selves.

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