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Exercise To Relieve Stress

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The best way to relieve stress might be just the opposite of what you’d think!

The therapeutic benefits of regular exercise are well documented. Study after study has shown that it increases health and general well being. It’s been said that if exercise were a drug, it would be the most powerful medication on earth. However, it still seems difficult to get people to workout on a regular basis. When life gets hectic, it’s generally the first thing that gets crossed off the “to do” list. In reality, it should be the last. It’s an industry standard to tell people that they should consult a physician before beginning an exercise program. Based on the scientific evidence, it would be more appropriate to consult a physician before parking yourself on the Laz-E-Boy for a session with the TV.

"Often times, my clients say they are too stressed to find time to work out, however the fact is, they are probably too stressed not to work out,” says triathlete and LA-based fitness trainer Erica Nemmers. “Exercise releases hormones into the body that allow people to bring balance into their lives and focus better on everything they do. It is the natural remedy that brings the body into homeostasis in a hectic world that constantly threatens to throw us out of that balance."

The evidence is clear; there's no doubt that physical exercise has a positive effect on stress and can calm the mind and relax the body. Exercise releases endorphins, the body’s “feel good hormones,” and in as little as 20 minutes a day, can change your entire outlook on life.

What type of exercise is best?

So, okay, exercise relieves stress, but what kind of exercise is the best? That depends on the individual. People have different environments that cause stress: work, home, traffic, etc. For example, if you work on your feet all day you might benefit more from a stretching-based workout, like Ho' Ala ke Kino, yoga, or Debbies Slim and Limber video, because you are constantly contracting your muscles, which makes you tense. But a person that is more sedentary and, say, sits in front of a computer all day might need more of a strength-based program to keep your muscles from atrophying. The bottom line, however, is that something, no matter what, is almost always better than nothing.

How long is long enough?

This is another variable situation but, again, any exercise at all is a million times better than none. After 20 minutes of exercise the brain starts releasing epinephrine and endorphins into the system, which lower tension and help stress stabilization. But even if you can’t take 20 minutes or more, you shouldn’t just throw in the towel. Even a 5 minutes stretch and breathing session can provide a calming effect that can last for hours.

Not sold yet? Here is a list of 10 ways that exercise will de-stress your life.

1. Detoxifying: During the stress response, nearly 1,500 biochemical reactions occur in the body. Neurotransmitters (also known as “brain signals”) are activated, hormones are released, and nutrients are metabolized. Some body systems, like the cardiovascular system, accelerate their functions while others, like the gastrointestinal system, slow down their operations in response to stress. This is commonly referred to as the fight or flight response, meaning that regular exercise allows the body to return to homeostasis faster and reduce the physical impact of psychosocial stress.

2. Anger Management: Research has documented the important role that expression or repression of anger and hostility plays in disease progression. Physical activity can be a healthy catharsis for this most caustic of emotions. It can provide a socially acceptable means of physically releasing negative energy. No matter what you do, be it kickboxing or yoga; the physical release of energy appears to dissipate feelings of anger in a positive way.

3. Moving Meditation: Certain exercises require a fairly consistent repetitive motion that can alter one's state of consciousness. Such as the Zen practice of walking meditation, the physiological effect is similar to what happens during meditation. Breathing and movement act as a mantra and may be responsible for the feelings of calmness and tranquility.

4. Introspection: Exercise can be a solitary escape from the daily toils and pressures of a stressful society. It can provide a mini vacation that allows one to recharge their energy levels to deal with conflicts when they return. Others use this time to self reflect on issues of importance, or to stimulate creative problem solving.

5. Reduction of Muscular Tension: During stress, muscles contract and lose their normal resting muscle tone. Bouts of physical activity allow muscles to work, thereby releasing stored energy and allowing muscle groups to return to their normal resting potential. This action also reduces discomfort associated with muscular tension, like tension headaches, arthritic joint pain, backaches, etc.

6. Endorphins: As stated before, endorphins have been shown to increase during physical activity of twenty minutes or more. Chemically similar to opiate compounds, this morphine-like substance has been shown to provide a pain relieving effect and promote a sense of euphoria – and it’s legal! The actual way endorphins work on the body is debated. Most of the controversy has to do with our inability to measure chemical changes that occur on the other side of the blood brain barrier. Regardless of the neuro-chemical reaction or other mechanisms that initiate changes in emotional status, this phenomenon does seem to exist. The positive mood states associated with frequent exercise are so significant that some have suggested that this is a more effective treatment for clinical depression than either psychotherapy or the use anti-depression drugs.

7. Increased Awareness: Physically fit individuals tend to develop an increased sense of somatic awareness, meaning that they become more in tune with their bodies. Thus, they are able to detect subtle changes in their physiology that they were previously unaware of, such as breathing patterns, reactions to diet and exercise, quality of sleep, etc. This new awareness allows people to be able to circumvent the physiological process of stress before it can cause problems.

8. Decreased Boredom: Too little stress in one's life can be just as upsetting as too much stress. It is natural for humans to seek out stimulation and excitement. For some, the opportunity for physical challenges is the most interesting part of life. At the far end of the scale are those who practice high-risk activities such as extreme skiing, skydiving, and rock climbing. By constantly testing themselves, individuals learn how to take on higher and higher loads of stress. The learning that ensues transfers over to stress that is experienced in daily life. All exercise accomplishes this to some degree.

9. Improvement in Sleep: A symptom of stress overload can be the inability to get adequate rest. A fatigued individual is less able to perform at a high level. Exercise has been shown to be very effective in helping some people fall asleep easily and sleep more soundly.

10. Stronger Immune System: The better shape you’re in, the stronger your immune system will be. When fit people become ill or injured, they will demonstrate more stamina and greater resiliency to fighting the discomfort. They will also recover more quickly.

Exercise Tip: The 2-minute De-Stressor

If you’re fed up and need to reduce your stress in an instant, here’s something you can do when you can't "press play." Take 2 minutes to bring your body into focus. This quick and simple stretch and breathing exercise may seem similar to how you start any Beach Body workout, but can be effective on its own to re-focus your mind and body.

1. Standing tall, lift your head up so that you stretch your neck. Take a deep slow breathe in through your nose, pulling it down deep into your lungs.

2. Slowly exhale while turning your head to the right and then to the left. Dip your head and return to looking straight ahead.

3. Keep breathing with this deep, slow pattern and slowly rotate your head in a clockwise and then counter-clockwise direction, keeping your chin to your chest and shoulders.

4. Take your shoulders back as far as they will go. Lift your left shoulder and relax it down again. Now swap and lift and relax your right shoulder.

5. Swing your right arm slowly in a full circular movement to free the shoulder. Swing your left arm in the same way.

6. Raise and relax both shoulders. Keep breathing slowly.

7. Put your right hand over your right shoulder and touch your left shoulder blade. Repeat with your left hand to your right shoulder.

8. Repeat 10 times, focusing solely on your breathing the entire time.

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