Exercise for stress management—‘The mind-body connection’

All of us deal with stress every day, and some of us have more stressors than others. Regardless of the amount of stress you encounter, it is important to know how it negatively impacts your health, and finding effective ways to combat stress is paramount to your long-term well-being.

Stress is recognized as the number one killer today. According to the American Medical Association, stress is the cause of 80 to 85 percent of all human illness and disease, or at the very least, has a detrimental effect on our health.

Chronic stress speeds up the aging process, reduces immune system function, and can contribute to the dangerous abdominal fat that is linked to cardiovascular disease. A study at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., of 42 obese women found that those with abdominal fat (apple-shaped bodies) secreted more stress hormones than those who carry extra weight on their hips (pear-shaped bodies). It is known that apple-shaped people are more at risk of heart disease. In addition, stress increases heart rate and blood pressure; changes the inner lining of our blood vessels, making our blood more likely to clot; and may change the way cholesterol is handled by our blood vessels and, in doing so, may increase plaque formation.

Tolerance of stress levels differs from person to person. Some people are able to sustain a highly stressful lifestyle or adapt themselves to a series of stressful events easily. However, many others succumb more readily to a variety of stress-related illnesses.

Exercise happens to be one of the top remedies for stress. Research has shown that physical exercise is the best tension reliever. Nothing eases stress more than exercise, and when done properly, gives your body time to operate in a more efficient mode.

Physically, exercise improves your cardiovascular functions by strengthening your heart, causing greater elasticity of the blood vessels, increasing oxygen throughout your body, and lowering your blood levels of fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides. All of this, of course, means less chance of developing heart conditions, strokes, or high blood pressure.

Mentally, exercise provides an outlet for negative emotions such as frustration, anger, and irritability, thereby promoting a more positive mood and outlook. Exercise improves mood by producing positive biochemical changes in the body and brain. Regular exercise reduces the amount of adrenal hormones your body releases in response to stress. Also, with exercise, your body releases greater amounts of endorphins, the powerful, pain-relieving, mood-elevating chemicals in the brain. Endorphins are natural pain killers and also help lift your mood. Exercise, therefore, will keep your body functioning properly and will keep you feeling both relaxed and refreshed; it can even promote deep, restful sleep.

To begin your reduced-stress lifestyle, find a form of exercise that you enjoy. Preferably, do something that brings you in contact with other people. The value of such exercise, three to seven times a week for 20-60 minutes, cannot be over emphasized. Walking, playing sports, weight training, or any other activity that raises your heart rate will get you on the road to successfully managing stress.

Stephie Steele is owner of Symmetry Fitness, LLC. She has been featured in IDEA Health & Fitness Source magazine and specializes in weight loss, sports performance, total body fitness, posture alignment therapy, strength training, core conditioning, cardiovascular and flexibility training. Visit her Web site at www.symmetryfitnessonline.com or e-mail her with questions at AskStephie@symmetryfitnessonline.com.

from the June 27-July 4, issue

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