Alleviating Stress Through Exercise

In this fast-paced, ambitious society in which we live, stress has become an increasingly common problem among people of all ages, regardless of their gender, income levels, education levels, places of residence, etc. Although a certain amount of stress is necessary (and even positive) in a person’s life, too much stress can wreak havoc and create health problems, if not acknowledged and dealt with in a salubrious manner.

There are many methods available for reducing stress in one’s life. Too often, however, we get so tied up in our daily routines that we aren’t even aware of just how stressed out we may be! Or, if we DO recognize that we’re really stressed out, we may not set aside time in our busy schedules to do anything about it. (Sound familiar?)

Stress-filled lifestyles often lead to emotional, mental, and physical problems. Among those problems are depression, sleep disorders, weakened immune systems, heart disease…even difficulty socializing with other people. Too much stress sends the body into its self-protection mode and triggers the autonomic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response.

This mechanism is necessary to our survival…up to a point. It is the body’s attempt to return to normalcy. Yet, when the body’s alarm system is triggered excessively, it can be even more harmful to one’s health than whatever stressor originally triggered this response. Therefore, it’s very important to address the issue of stress and to learn how to manage it, so that we can lead healthy, productive, and enjoyable lives.

Studies have shown that one of the best methods of managing stress is regular exercise. One such study, performed by Stanford University School Of Medicine, found that as little as 30 to 40 minutes of exercise, done regularly each week, may result in lower stress and stress-related conditions, such as depression. (Note: exercise MUST be performed regularly for it to have a continuing effect on stress.)

According to fitness experts, Charles Corbin and Ruth Lindsey, “aerobic exercise is believed to be especially effective in reducing anxiety and relieving stress (though a wide variety of other activities are also good).”

Corbin and Lindsey go on to say that exercise “reduces the levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine, the catecholamines that prepare a person for fight or flight, and thus reduces the end result of stress.” As a result of a regular exercise program, you will become more fit and healthy, as well. And, the healthier you are, the more mentally, emotionally, and physically capable you are of coping with stress.

Whenever I feel really stressed, exercise tends to not only help relieve that stress, but it also has the power to divert my attention and thoughts to something more pleasant and positive. I’m happier and healthier! My energy level is increased! My mental focus is clearer! And, I also notice an improvement in my self-esteem!

So, if you’re among the great masses who face excess stress in their everyday lives (as many of us do), get out there and exercise! Incorporate more physical activities into your daily routines to release tension and frustration. Be sure to choose an exercise program that you find enjoyable and easy to stick with! And, then…as the Nike slogan goes, “Just do it!” You’ll feel better in the long run!

The Heat is On

It is the dog days of summer, and I don’t know about the rest of the country, but it is hot and steamy in the south. It is hot enough that I am making several adjustments to my exercise routine. I normally run outside every day, but this is the time of the year when I least appreciate it. Consequently I am using the fitness equipment a few days a week and the other days I head out for a real good sweat.

I am one of these people who sweat profusely. By the time I am done my t-shirt, gym shorts, bandana around my head and the one I use to wipe the sweat are all soaked. This means I am draining some serious fluids, which is not a problem as long as I adequately replace them and I monitor any abnormal physical symptoms.

Heat related illnesses are usually due to people ignoring the warning symptoms. They include weakness, dizziness, headaches, muscle cramps and nausea. This means you need to be aware of your mental state. What appears to be fatigue can progress to unconsciousness.

So I have been doing my research and have come up with a list of valuable suggestions to make certain you summer outdoor workouts are healthy and rewarding:

Stay Hydrated

Even in cooler temperatures, there is a tendency not to adequately replace expended body fluids. In the summer it is an absolute necessity. It is important to drink water or sports beverages before and after your workout. If you are engaging in extended outdoor exercise (running, walking, bicycling), replace fluids periodically. For runners, consider a hydration pack. If you do not maintain your fluid levels you risk circulatory failure.

If you are exercising for an hour or less water is sufficient. Longer then an hour and you need to replace carbohydrates. Warmer weather metabolizes these substances faster. Consider one of the popular sports drinks that contains carbs.

Time of Day

When they are predicting some scourging weather, schedule your workout early in the morning or later in the evening. Avoid the mid-day heat and humidity. Workout indoors if this is the only time you have to exercise

Humidity

Be aware of the relative humidity. The body responds to overheating by the evaporation of moisture through perspiration. When the humidity is high, the air is less capable of evaporating excess moisture. Consequently your natural cooling mechanism is compromised.

Cool Clothing

No, I am not talking about the latest fashions. When exercising in heat you do not want clothing that will retain heat. That includes cotton apparel. Go for synthetic breathable fabrics that release moisture from your body and allow good airflow. Hats are good for preventing the sun from heating up the blood vessels lining your scalp. But remove the hat occasionally to let the heat escape.

Problems of Pollution

Due to some misguided political policies and our desire to drive gas-guzzling vehicles, the air quality in urban environments in the summer often sucks. During days when there are orange, red or even purple alerts it is best to limit your outdoor activities. And air pollution is not limited to just cities. For example, the air quality in the mountains of North Carolina during the summer can be equivalent to the air in Los Angeles. The trees are actually dying in the high altitudes. Furthermore, the air quality in a number of our national parks and beaches can be potentially hazardous during the summer months. Excessive physical exertion in areas of poor air quality can be detrimental to your health.

The summer offers an incredible opportunity to enjoy the beauty of nature while you exercise. A walk or run on a tree-lined trail or sandy beach surely beats the congestion of a health club. But when it heats up outside use common sense and caution.

Have a healthy and prosperous life.