Exercise vs. Stress


One of the best ways to keep stress out of your life is to get plenty of physical activity.

Michael Mantell, PhD, would prefer that we stop talking about “managing” stress and start talking about preventing it in the first place. “For all of our expertise in managing stress, still nearly 80 percent of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress while nearly 75 percent experience stress-related psychological symptoms,” said Dr. Mantell, who is Senior Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for the American Council on Exercise. “Extreme stress is a familiar feeling for one-third of the country due largely to job pressures, financial woes, health concerns and unhealthy relationships. These are folks who are busy focusing on managing stress, rather than having prevented it.

We are all familiar with at least some of the symptoms of stress. “Debilitating fatigue, jackhammer headaches, hypertension, weight gain, weaker immune system, lead weights inside your upset stomach, vice-like muscle tension, boiling anger, frozen anxiety, ‘I give up’ depression and yes, even impaired sex drive—these are some of the $300 billion a year stress management-related costs,” said Dr. Mantell.

So, how do we go about preventing stress from entering our lives in the rst place? One of the best ways to do so is through that old stand-by, exercise.

Simply put, physical activity is great for your overall health. Its benefits have been well documented through careful research. “Exercise is the free preventive — and yes managing — medicine we’ve always had to improve our wellbeing, including reduce stress. Exercise increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes the health and growth of your brain, in particular your prefrontal cortex/hippocampus, which helps in stress reduction,” said Dr. Mantell. “In addition, exercise promotes the production of endorphins, the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. Exercise increases another feel-good stress moderator, the neurohormone norepinephrine, while reducing THE stress chemical, cortisol, as well. Of course, exercise improves your mood, reduces anxiety, lifts spirits, and leaves you feeling more self- confident — all positive antidotes to stress.”

So what kind of exercise is best for preventing stress and bene ting your overall health? “All forms of movement are better than not moving,” Dr. Mantell pointed out. “Cardio, continuous activity, interval training, running, Zumba, Les Mills group exercise programs, dance, spin, biking, swimming, resistance training, yoga and pilates, tai chi, team sports and just a good old-fashioned walking around the block — at moderate to intense levels — can all create the chemical impact and cognitive clarity that exercise offers to reduce stress.” Try to get 150 minutes per week, which works out to five 30-minute sessions, and you’ll be doing yourself a world of good.

Dr. Mantell’s Tips in a Nutshell

Dr. Michael Mantell has a handy mnemonic (memory aid) for preventing stress:

S- Smile more daily, especially at the first 10people you see

T- Think rationally, accurately, logically, confidently, and positively

R- Relive the good with healthy relationships, the pleasant, the favorable accomplishments in your life and avoid recounting the bad

E- Eat right and light including asparagus, avocados, blueberries, warm milk, almonds, salmon, spinach, oatmeal

S- Sweat more through regular exercise including high intensity interval cardio and resistance training (set a timer and stand every 10 minutes if you can during work), yoga, Pilates, tai chi, and meditation

S- Savor your life by choosing gratitude and focusing your thinking in healthy, mindful, factual ways without predicting gloom and doom, slow yourself down by finding the beauty of experiences and creating relaxing moments throughout your day

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