Stress is a part of everyone’s life. For some, on a daily basis. There are many different types of stress to deal with throughout the day: parenting stress, financial stress, job-related stress, relationship stress, mental anxiety and stress…the list goes on and on. Like everyone else, I’m guilty of carrying these stressors with me as well, but over the past few months I have definitely noticed a difference in the levels of it and my coping mechanisms. The key for me: exercise.
Exercise, while some dread it, will always result in feeling better. Many people I speak with say the hardest part is getting started, but finishing up a good workout is one of the best feelings ever. Yes, it has to do with feeling accomplished and seeing your body and health improve and progress, but much of it is simply scientific. When you work out, whether it be a good cardio session or strength training, your brain produces endorphins. Endorphins are the “feel good” chemicals your brain releases that mimic the effects of morphine. Endorphins are released by your brain and give you a euphoric feeling and helps your deal with pain. Fortunately, for worry warts like me, endorphins also help you forget about stressors in your life, if even for a brief few moments.
I have started to view my work outs as, not only way to improve my physical health and fitness, but my mental health and fitness as well. They are extremely therapeutic for me and I look forward to them as they make me exert energy in a positive way as opposed to a negative way. A good work out will result in feeling more confident and stronger, both of which can make your happier.
A particular instance comes to mind where I had a rough day at work and the coping mechanism my brain and body immediately craved was…sprints! It gave me a chance to dig deep, focus on the music coming through my headphones, on the sound of my feet hitting the ground, and soon enough I hit the ever so talked about “runner’s high”. This runner’s high is a direct result of the endorphins my brain released through the exertion of physical energy. I felt calmer, more at peace, and in the zone. I couldn’t stop running. Let me rephrase that, I oddly didn’t want to stop running! Before I knew it I had hit the 5 mile mark setting a personal best time. I finished the run dripping in sweat, but what had also seeped out of me were the feelings of frustration, anxiety, and stress that were pent up inside. I felt so much better.
All of that physical exertion led to another “feel good” …sleep! A good night’s sleep can help anyone feel better, especially a deep sleep. Science has also proven that exercise leads to more restful sleep, also making one feel better. Stress can usually lead to problems falling asleep and staying asleep, but since exercise releases endorphins and reduces stress levels, it can lead to better sleep habits. These habits include the duration of sleep and the quality of sleep. Physical activity can increase the time spent in deep sleep, which is the restorative part of a sleep phase. Good deep sleep results in better cardiac health, a boost in your immune system, and, coming full circle, reduces stress and anxiety.
So next time you’re feeling stressed out, think about exercising for at least 30 minutes. Whether it be a good strong walk, a feel good run, or a powering out some lifts, it may be exactly what your body and brain is asking for.