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Fitness as a tool against stress

Exercise Psychology

Written by:
Thomas Ihn Hansen
Master of Educational Psychology, cognitive coach and teacher.

You have probably also heard all the pieces of advice about how to counteract stress, through exercising, relaxation and various preventive measures such as turning off your pc or mobile telephone.
Official figures show that stress is a serious phenomenon to be taken seriously by everyone. On a daily basis, more than 10,000 Danish people are reported sick due to stress, but despite that fact and a general knowledge about the adverse effects of stress, many people are at a loss what to do when stress occurs.
This is where my article has its point of impact - for stress is not just coming like a bolt from the blue - stress can be prevented and treated on a continuous basis.
My article will therefore basically treat the question of how to prevent stress and how to build good mastering strategies so that we can stand the stress of our daily lives.

Stress in brief:

When we feel stressed, many of us indulge in "self-provisioning", a night on the town with our friends, relaxing before the tv or the like. Those tools are indeed often important for us to create dynamic in our everyday lives and for the moment, they also have a good impact on stress.But, why do we end up lying sleepless at night, worrying, feeling an inner unrest, being irritable, tired and uncomfortable?When we experience stress, we react physically and mentally to one or more strains which are also called stressors.
The relation between mind and body is vital to stress management. Mentally, we manage stress through active troubleshooting and physically, we react to being busy, having to perform in relation to outer and inner expectations. Mind and body therefore go hand in hand all the way through the experiences of our lives.
When we solve a problem or handle a situation satisfactorily we often feel strong, we get a kick of adrenalin that has a positive effect on us. Having performed well at an exam or the like is one example. In this case, the brain releases adrenalin and noradrenalin which are stress hormones with a positive effect that enable us to act. Your body ends up in a state of alert that sharpens your senses and focuses your attention on the job, because your heart rhythm becomes harder and more oxygen is pumped up to your brain.

By contrast, long-term strains arising from situations where you are unable to carry out your jobs satisfactorily will have a negative effect on your mind and body. The hormone cortisol will be released, counteracting the hormone adrenalin, which will make you more passive and less energetic, and you will no longer be able to respond adequately to the jobs you are presented with. Long-term strains of this kind can have serious implications such as paralysis, poor immune system, anxiety, depression etc. Those are the kinds of stress and stress reactions that we can actively prevent.

Training / exercising is preventing stress:

When you are to prevent stress it does not suffice to just study the subject, the theory or the jobs that you are presented with. Likewise, it does not always pay off to just relax before the tv when you get home from work, tired and stressed. It is also necessary to focus on your body if you want to prepare yourself better for managing stress. One of the ways to counteract the effect of negative stress is training / exercising.

When you exercise continuously you build an important defence against stress. Research shows a series of connections between stress management and exercising and the beneficial effect of exercising in relation to one's ability to manage long-term stress effects. One of the main research results was found in Norway and other countries and shows that your thinking, behaviour and mood is influenced by how much or how little you exercise. The correlation shows in the feeling of energy with the people who exercise and in their feeling of being able to handle, cope with and carry out the jobs they are presented with. That is an essential point. If you think more positively and with a greater feeling of energy you will also be less likely to find a situation so stressful that you cannot carry out the job. There is thus a large degree of correlation between your thinking, and consequently your mood, and the way stress actually hits you.

Exercising is also a kind of stress situation - but it is positive stress - where the hormones adrenalin and noradrenalin make you react more quickly and strongly to outer effects. In other words, we improve our ability to manage resistance and challenges using far less energy than we would have done had we not been exercising. If we do not exercise we therefore risk making ourselves more susceptible to negative stress experiences and reacting more slowly and less adequately in stress situations, due to the restraining hormone cortisol.
The correlation between stress and exercising is also positive when it comes to your ability to relax. If you exercise, you are more capable of getting into a state of rest - that is, a state in which you are able to build up your resources. That state is much more difficult to get into for people who do not exercise. The state of rest develops from exercising both stimulating the chemistry of your brain and positively affecting your heart rhythm. By strengthening your circulation, you also strengthen your ability to go from a very stressful state to a state of rest. In other words, if you exercise you are better able to respond and act adequately and relatively quickly find your balance again.
If you do not exercise, you will be affected by the stress situation more easily, you will respond less adequately, and you will remain in a state of stress for a longer period of time than you would have done had you been exercising. That is due to your tendency to see stress as a negative thing, which triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol, and cortisol adds to your feeling of stress while impairing your ability to manage it.
At the same time, it also turns out that your immune system is strengthened considerably if you exercise regularly, and that also correlates with how you experience a situation. If you see a situation as being stressful and have done so for a long period of time, then your body will respond by being on the alert. In this state, you may find that you get ill soon, you are irritable, lie awake at night and are intolerant of loud noises etc.
If you know that you can quickly get into a state of rest, you will not see the stress situation as a continuous process, but as challenges that stress you out for short periods of time.

I hope that my article will motivate you to resume exercising or continue doing it.

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