Although stress and anxiety are different, exercise can benefit both! In this day and age, even those of us who are not usually stressed day to day or anxious about events, find ourselves struggling to stay calm. Indeed, even some universities are offering the Calm app for free for their students. We are worried about the education of our youth, our livelihoods and our health. Beginning a program of moderate exercise like walking, biking, swimming or a light circuit training, can have tremendous benefits.
What do we know about exercise and stress? You have probably heard of fight, flight or freeze – the body’s stress response mechanism. This stress response mechanism releases hormones to increase heart rate, blood pressure and glucose into the blood stream. Exercise has a similar effect on the body, but unlike stress, exercise causes the body to use that extra glucose. When we are under chronic stress, these hormones remain high and can be harmful to our health. Exercise helps develop what is known as the cross-stressor adaptation to stress. This hypothesis states that regular exercise of a significant intensity and duration ( see the post How to calculate your working heart rate based on your goals) can lead to changes in the reactivity of the stress response system. Thus regular exercise can reduce the negative effects of stress on our bodies and minds. Research does show that people report feeling less stressed after a single bout of exercise and less stress in general when they are physically active. To keep the exercise itself from adding stress to your life, pick the time that is most convenient for you and do what you enjoy.
Anxiety is a little different than stress. Anxiety can be classified as trait, when you are overly worries about things most of the time, and the worry is disproportionate to the actual threat, for example General Anxiety Disorder. State anxiety is when certain things make you anxious, like going in for a cardiac procedure. 😊 Treating anxiety can be costly and studies show that exercise is as effective and, in some cases, more effective than medication. Exercise can prevent and treat anxiety. Those who say they engage in regular physical activity, record less feeling of anxiety and better overall mental health.
What’s the “take home” message? Find some time to do some exercise that you love. Pay attention to how you feel and give yourself a break!