Many a times, we are faced with situations – major or minor – that cause us sudden grief and or anxiety. Situations that we are unprepared for, but are forced to handle. The state of affairs paralyses us emotionally, and saps us of the strength to think or do what needs to be done.
Our sense of emotional distress is often related to a feeling of things being out of our control. When we are depressed or anxious, we frequently feel trapped, and don’t know an effective course of action to improve the situation.
Exercise can play a significant role here because its psychological benefits kick in.
Once on a moderate exercise programme, people begin to feel a sense of control over their lives; a sense of mastery over themselves, their emotions and their bodies.
The mind-body connection
Ever noticed how your heart rate shoots up suddenly when someone cuts your lane in mid-traffic? Or how you spend a sleepless night, even as that terrible tension headache slowly develops with worries about your job interview?
Stress and anxiety lead to a pattern of physical reactions: Tense muscles, rapid shallow breathing, and breaking into a “cold sweat”.
The stimulation of the adrenal glands pours the adrenaline hormone – responsible for “the flight or fight reaction” – into the blood and mobilises the body into reaction. So you either
- Fight your way through the situation, or
- Take flight i.e. escape from the situation and refuse to deal with it.
Exercise is called “nature’s tranquiliser” as it has been shown to break up stress patterns in the body.
Regular exercise helps us absorb and burn off the excess adrenaline. It helps the production of various hormones that assist us in dealing with stress. Exercise produces a feeling of mild euphoria by releasing body chemicals called “endorphins”, the feel-happy hormones known to dull pain [Exercise is also a “natural painkiller”].
Exercise as an anti-depressant
How many times have you found yourself reaching for a bar of chocolate, every time you felt “down”? Reach out for the bar at the gym instead!
People with extreme mood swings, find that exercising regularly calms them and gives them a greater sense of stability.
Exercising often puts that “spring in their step” and they find they can cope with depression better. They also find themselves less depressed than usual.
Scientists have found this to be due to a naturally produced chemical “phenyl ethylamine” in the body, linked to the regulation of physical energy, mood and attention.
Exercise and anger
People often refer to their anger to be similar to soda. They heat up fast and cool down just as fast. The description couldn’t be more apt. If a soda bottle was sealed and shaken hard, naturally it would burst open. But if you released the cork, some of it would spill and then fizzle out.
Our body is the same when we are angry. If we work off our anger, it dies down. On the other hand, if we store it in, it harms us!
Exercise acts as an outlet; especially hard vigorous exercise. It helps in gaining added self-control and channelising anger more productively.
Do you note how “hyper-active” you feel when you don’t sleep? Insomnia is something all of us experience at some point of time or the other. With some it is habitual, while for others it occurs randomly, depending on their mental state.
That niggling worry at the back of your mind is usually the cause.
Working out regularly helps you relieve tensions and relaxes your muscles. It promotes deep breathing and forces the body’s physiological systems to communicate more closely than usual, thus promoting both mental and physical health. And yes, a good sleep.
Exercise and happiness
Ask a couch potato why he/she hates exercising and one of the first reasons will be the “pain” caused by exercise.
Now ask a dedicated body builder [anyone who lifts even 5 lb [2.5 Kg] dumbbells is a body builder] or a regular brisk-walker what makes them exercise daily in spite of the pain?
You might think it’s the fresh air they enjoy, or the fact that they look better, or their weight loss targets.
But the answer is something else.
What keeps a person addicted to exercise is that “feeling”.
This “feeling” is the high that exercisers experience once they complete their work out.
Body chemicals serotonin and endorphin, which are also known as ‘mood up-lifters’, are what cause this.
They wipe away the exercise fatigue, the day’s tensions and give you an increased sense of wellbeing.
Different people experience different “highs”. From a mild sense of happiness, to euphoria to intense joy, but the one’s who feel it definitely know it!
Exercise is, and should be a lifetime commitment. It is not something you must aim to do short term. Let it be something that, like your other pleasant experiences, is deeply embedded in your psyche.
The distinct differences in the attitudes of exercisers and non-exercisers are proof enough of this; you cannot train your body without it beneficially affecting your mind.
Remember; it is the mind, which leads, and the body follows!