Before we talk about how exercising helps relieve stress, let’s first talk about what causes stress. The stress we feel – tightness in the neck and between the shoulder blades, rapid pulse, sweaty palms, along with increased breathing – are all responses by our body to a “fight or flight” situation. When faced with perceived danger, the body’s normal response is to flood the bloodstream with adrenaline and cortisol. If we truly were in a fight or flight situation, the increased levels of these hormone would be needed to help us “escape”. It is the increased levels of these two hormones that creates the stress response we feel.
Exercise to the Rescue
Exercising works to help relieve stress by reducing the levels of adrenaline and cortisol, and stimulating the production of endorphins – chemicals in the brain that serve as the body’s natural painkillers and mood improver. Endorphins are reason behind the “runner’s high” or feeling of euphoria so many report after exercising.
But many people suffering from stress ask what kind of exercising works best to reduce stress. The answer is almost any type of aerobic and endurance exercise helps. However some people use a technique called muscular meditation that uses the large muscle groups of the lower body in a rhythmic, repetitive cadence. Walking and jogging are two examples; using an elliptical trainer is another. And it doesn’t take long to feel the stress drain out of your body. A short 20-minute workout can clear your mind and reduce the stress.
While regular exercising works to reduce the level of stress, other types of exercising can also have a calming effect. Because stress frequently causes rapid, shallow, and erratic breathing, deep breathing helps to overcome these respiratory responses.
To practice deep breathing:
1. Breathe in slowly and deeply pulling in as much air as you can.
2. Hold your breath briefly.
3. Exhale slowly, thinking “relax.”
4. Repeat the entire sequence five to 10 times, concentrating on breathing deeply and slowly.
When you start to feel the effects of stress, turn to deep breathing as a deterrent until you can exercise to further relieve the effects of stress.
Deep breathing can be done alone or in combination with yoga, which also brings in meditation and a series of poses both designed to relax the body.
You don’t have to give in to stress. While you might not be able to control the source of stress, you can manage its effects though yoga, aerobic/endurance exercises, and deep breathing.