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How to reduce stress through exercise

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These days, many people find it difficult to unplug. Inflation, global warming and gun violence are on the rise. Bullies are proliferating on social media. In the 24/7 news cycle, tragic news is constantly ringing and people are often faced with difficult personal or professional situations.

According to one survey, about half of Americans said they felt stressed in the past day. Gallup poll A finding that has remained consistent for much of 2022 since last October. In his CNN survey in collaboration with the Kaiser Family Foundation in October, personal finances and current and political events were the main sources of stress for more than one-third of her adults. .

Stress isn’t inherently bad, says Richard Scrivener, personal trainer and product development manager at educational technology company Trainfitness in London. For example, stressing your muscles with weight training can produce beneficial changes. Moreover, short-term stress in healthy people is usually not dangerous. “However, the long-term effects of stress responses can lead to significant health problems if the stress is sustained, especially in older and unhealthy people,” Scrivener said.

Clinical psychologist Carmel Choi, Ph.D., assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and the Center for Precision Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, stresses when faced with a new, unpredictable or threatening situation and not sure if you can manage it successfully. said to occur. Boston hospital.

When you’re physically or mentally stressed, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. Cortisol rushes through your system, signaling your body to release glucose. Glucose, in turn, fuels your muscles, readying them to fight off or flee the threat. During a cortisol rush, your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes faster, and you may feel dizzy or nauseous.

If you really need to fight or flee from a predator, your cortisol levels will drop once the fray is over. However, if you are chronically stressed, these levels remain elevated.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, high levels of cortisol can exacerbate health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic gastrointestinal problems, so staying at that high isn’t good. stress It can also cause or contribute to anxiety, irritability, sleep deprivation, substance abuse, chronic distrust and worry.

Luckily, there are many ways to combat stress. We recommend sticking to your routine, getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and limiting your time on the news and social media. world health organizationIt can also help you stay connected to others and employ calming practices like meditation and deep breathing.

Relieve stress by exercising outdoors. Research shows that spending time in nature can improve your mental and physical health.

“Exercise is very effective in managing mental stress,” Choi said. “Exercise doesn’t eliminate the sources of stress, but it can elevate mood, reduce tension, and improve sleep, all of which are affected by stress. Ultimately, it helps people feel more balanced.” You will be able to tackle challenges in an organized way.”

Numerous studies support the positive effects of exercise on stress. Physical activity, especially exercise, significantly reduced anxiety symptoms. study For example, in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. Similarly, The forefront of psychological research of college students found that they engage in low- to moderate-intensity exercise on a regular basis. aerobic exercise Helped reduce depressive symptoms and perceived stress over 6 weeks.

The reason exercise is so effective in relieving stress is very simple. When you exercise, your body produces endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that boost your mood. While improving blood flow, exercise also counteracts elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Aerobic exercises such as running, dancing, and boxing produce large amounts of mood-boosting endorphins that relieve stress. However, light exercise such as walking is also effective.

Jessica Honig, a clinical social worker in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, says she empowers her clients because they recognize that exercise is key to resetting and reducing stress. “It’s also one of the best ways to pause, to break or renew energy from spiraling, unproductive mindsets,” she said.

What type of exercise is best? Studies show that aerobic exercise such as swimming, running, dancing, and boxing may be the most effective in releasing mood-boosting endorphins into your body. , more gentle forms of physical activity also work. Think yoga, strength training, and walking. Moreover, sometimes less is more.

“What we’re seeing from the data is that we actually need to move less than the recommended guidelines. positive effect on mood

Since your stress load can change weekly or daily, Scrivener says it can be helpful to alter your exercises based on your mood. Feeling a hilarious 8 on a scale of 1 to 10? Then go for a run. Barely hit 3? Choose kind. “This allows him to do 15 minutes of stretching followed by a 15 minute light cycle, or 30 minutes of swimming followed by his sauna session,” he said.

Choi encourages exercising with others because social engagement is a powerful protective factor for positive mental health. being in nature It can boost your mood, so exercising outside with a friend may be even more effective.

Combine exercise and social activities by scheduling regular workouts with your neighbors or attending classes.

Scientists continue to study the relationship between stress and physical activity.a small study A recently published study found that combining mindfulness and physical activity improves sleep and regulates emotions better than either alone, Choi said. She also cautioned that you need to be careful not to overdo exercise or rely on it just to deal with a problem. Doing so can be counterproductive and create more stress.

It’s also important to remember that humans, regardless of age, are designed to release stress physically, says social worker Honig. “We allow children to throw themselves into their pillows to release intense emotions,” she said. “We never grow beyond our need to release stress physically. We just lose that outlet and social normalization.”

Melanie Radicky McManus Freelance writer specializing in hiking, travel and fitness.

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