Stress is a much used word in today’s times and even school kids are beginning to use it rampantly. Different people feel stressed out in response to different situations, but the net result of stress on all of us is the same.
Impact of stress
Any stress response is translated in the body as a fight-flight reaction. This releases stress hormones like adrenaline and epinephrine. Adrenaline commands the liver to release stored sugars as glucose into the blood stream, anticipating a high energy activity to fight stress. Since this rarely happens, the excess glucose gets stored as fat. This is how prolonged periods of stress, in addition to the emotional effect, also leads to a physical effect i.e. weight gain. The constant stress from flight-fight reactions saps the body of energy, which can either lead to adrenal fatigue, mental breakdown, or a weak immune system. Most ailments are therefore known to have a psychosomatic [mind-body] connection.
How physical activity reduces stress
Endorphins: The feel good hormone
If you go to a park, you’ll see the slimmest of people doing the rounds. You might wonder, what motivates them to exercise? It is the feel good factor from the endorphins that is one of the biggest motivators that keeps the people running everyday. Endorphins are the body’s feel good hormones [endogenous morphine]. “Runner’s high” is an example of how prolonged physical activity can release endorphins. Endorphins are released during long, continuous workouts, when the level of intensity is between moderate and high, and breathing is difficult. Exercise also reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
Distracting the mind
Focussing on problems and thinking about them leads to mental anguish and stress, which is why a simple activity like walking, gardening or playing with kids can make us focus on the positive side of life. If the mind keeps going back to negative thoughts during a walk, it is a good idea to listen to your favourite music while walking, or observing the people and scenes around.
Support of friends
Taking a yoga class or a joining a walking group is a nice way to meet like-minded people who can become good friends and confidantes. Having a walking partner is great for sticking to schedule and also keeps boredom away as you talk about various things. You may also find comfort in venting out your problems to your friend.
Better body image
Any kind of physical activity is bound to tone the body and the improved circulation brings a glow to the face. A better looking person is always more confident and this brings about a feeling of self-worth, which in itself relieves stress.
Research is finding links between moderate exercise and better immunity. This could be because of improved circulation resulting in a quick movement of immune cells to capture disease-causing bacteria and viruses. The immune system returns to normal a few hours after the end of exercise, which is why regular physical activity is important to keep our functioning at optimum. Better health means a better state of mind. A daily dose of exercise also ensures restful sleep, which is also great stress-buster.
Rhythmic activities for mental peace
Often we hear people making excuses that “I’m feeling low, I don’t want to go to the gym.” In such situations, it is better to get out of the house for a leisurely walk, tending the garden, or doing a slow cycle. Such activities can de-activate the negative triggers.
Walk your way to health
Walking can be used to calm your mind. The rhythmic movements coordinated with your breath can be the perfect way to take your mind off nagging problems. I know of many people who recite mantras or chants and some who say their prayers during the entire walk so that it becomes exercise for the body and solace for the mind.
It is always better to choose a nice park or a beach as against the treadmill, where we can feel one with nature’s beauty. Instead of considering walking an “exercise”, take it as an opportunity to be aware of your body as it takes in more and more oxygen. If you are walking outdoors, use it as an opportunity to admire the beauty of nature.
Other physical activities that de-stress
Many people who practise yoga experience a complete calming of the mind with markedly reduced nervousness, irritability, depression and emotional fatigue. Yoga also reduces blood pressure and anxiety.
Qi gong is an ancient Chinese art that combines breathing, meditation, gentle exercise, and flowing movements. Qi [pronounced chi] is the energy flowing through the channels in the body and this exercise promotes free flow of energy in the channels. When practised regularly, it is known to reduce blood pressure and heart rate.
T’ai Chi is a martial art form with a series of graceful, fluid motions. Being non-jerky and smooth, even older people can do this without much discomfort. It improves muscle strength and breathing capacity plus provides the bonus of improving balance too. These movements when practised regularly are known to reduce blood pressure.
Dancing to your favourite music is a great way to feel a sense of abandon. You need not even know to dance for this. Just moving to the music and letting your body go can leave you feeling high.
Whether you have a big space or just a nook in your balcony, the act of keeping plants, tending them and watching them grow is a big stress reliever. Being out in the sun and getting in “touch” with nature can bring a lot of good cheer.
Physical activity not only has effects on your body, but also has the pleasant effects on your mind. So what are you waiting for? Get going! Read more about the physical and mental health benefits of home gardening.
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