There is no doubt that the past several years have been stressful for many as we navigate the overwhelming maze of the coronavirus pandemic, shortages at work, family issues, and burdens faced by society in general.
We found that we had to stay home during the pandemic. We did some renovations as we were locked into our home such as putting the MWE hardware on the barn door and getting minor repairs done throughout the house . It was great to get some things done, but we soon got bored and anxious.
Stress-related illnesses are on the rise following the pandemic emergence in March 2020. Many people were already worried about down-trending jobs and the economy, shootings, crime, and health care.
Thankfully, there are many ways in which we can lessen our stress levels, one of which is regular exercise. It is important to note that some exercise is better suited to stress reduction than others.
Why Exercise To De-Stress
Exercise is known to lower cortisol levels which contribute to stress and anxiety, and exercise also promotes better and more restful sleep.
Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which are neurotransmitters in the brain that promote feelings of well-being and heightened mood. Those who run regularly or practice aerobics often report an “athlete’s high” when exercising, which comes from endorphin production.
In addition to endorphins, the brain also produces a protein called galanin, which serves to lower stress levels and elevate mood in a similar manner.
Exercise Reduces The Symptoms of Stress
Exercise can relieve stress by alleviating the symptoms of stress. Stress can cause discomfort in many areas of the body, including tight muscles in the shoulders, jaw pain from clenching your teeth, headaches, chest pain, and upset stomach.
When you exercise, the movement of blood through these areas promotes healing and unwinding. By moving your muscles, you no longer hold them in a tightened position that can cause muscle stiffness. Furthermore, stretching and light movement can also serve to unwind tense muscles.
Exercise Also Contributes To Ongoing Stress Reduction
Exercise does not just alleviate stress and its associated symptoms at the time of exercise. It can also contribute to ongoing stress relief, even when you are not presently exercising. Regular rest might promote relaxation at the time, but once you are no longer resting, anxiety levels can rise again. However, those who exercise and promote the production of endorphins often find that the stress-relieving effects of the hormone last longer than the effects of just rest.
Running is Meditation in Motion
In addition to the “runner’s high” mentioned by athletes, there is also the “runner’s zone” that comes with exercising. Many who engage in exercise for longer than 30 minutes report slipping into a state of consciousness that is very similar to still meditation.
The anxious thoughts brought on by stress and anxieties tend to quiet during exercise, in much the same way that a relaxed mental state is achieved through mindfulness, yoga, or deep breathing.
By focusing on doing a repetitive task, the brain is lulled into a certain state in which hurried thoughts slow down to the point to where some long-distance runners claim they do not even remember the entirety of the several miles long run they just conducted. They are sometimes surprised to find they have arrived at their destination.
The Right Kind of Exercise for Stress Relief
Not all exercise is meant for stress relief. Yoga, for example, might be a better choice for exercise after a stressful day than tackle football or dodgeball.
While you can certainly get an endorphin rush from dodgeball, you might not be very relaxed when you’re finished. Choosing the right kind of exercise for stress relief is important too.
Yoga, qigong, walking, light jogging, and elliptical movement are better choices for inducing the “zone” athletes feel when exercising that allow for stress relief. This is because it involves repetitive movement that does not require focused thought, does not often result in tired and sore muscles, and can be done for a longer length of time than most cardio exercises.
The Mayo Clinic concurs with the idea of using exercise to alleviate stress in a recent article on the matter, demonstrating that medical professionals agree with exercise and health experts on the benefits of exercise in reducing stress.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes it can be difficult in a busy and stressful daily schedule to find time for that much-needed exercise, but simply taking a walk on your lunch break or after dinner can do wonders for dispelling high levels of cortisol and anxiety. Making exercise part of your daily practice will demonstrate long term stress-relieving benefits of regular exercise.