The thought of getting up early to go for a run or hit the gym might make you tense up and want to scream. Surely adding yet another commitment into your already busy life is only going to increase your stress levels, isn’t it?
It may feel that way, but in actual fact exercise is one of the best things you can do for stress management. And since stress can lead to a whole range of issues — from headaches to weight gain to reduced immunity and even to serious diseases — this can only be a good thing.
Here are seven benefits of exercise as a tool for stress management:
- Exercise raises endorphins.
Exercise causes our bodies to release more endorphins — the “feel good” chemicals that trigger positive feelings and act as a natural pain killer. If you’ve ever experienced “runner’s high” you’ll know exactly how this feels! This release of endorphins has been credited to an elevation in mood and helps to ward of feelings of anxiety and depression.
- It lets you zone out.
When we work out, we can put ourselves into a kind of zoned-out state in which we’re focusing solely on the rhythm and flow of our body’s movements. This focused state can lead us to calmness and can clear our mind, much like a meditative practice would. In other words, exercise can actually be like a form of meditation!
- It enhances cognitive function.
We all know how important fitness is for our bodies, but too often we neglect to care for the health of our minds. Since body and mind are so closely interrelated, it’s no wonder that exercise has been shown to improve alertness and concentration, as well benefit the overall cognitive function. It can also improve quality of sleep. If you’re tired and having trouble focusing due to stress, exercise is a great way to sharpen up your mind.
- It’s natural and cost effective.
It goes without saying that the best medicine is the one that doesn’t involve prescription pills and antidepressants. Regular exercise is natural, efficient, and cost effective — if not completely free! Even if you don’t have gym memberships, exercising from home, or simply going for a walk or jog, is a highly positive step towards reducing and managing stress.
- It harmonizes the physiological systems.
In order to exercise, your body’s physiological systems have to work together more closely than usual. If you think about going for a run, for example, you’re using your muscular system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system and central nervous system all at once — challenging these different parts to communicate closely with each other. This interaction is a workout in itself, and it allows our bodies to become better adapted to dealing with, and responding to, all the different kinds of stresses that come our way.
- It can be social.
Working out doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Sometimes our feelings of anxiety can stem from loneliness or isolation, so finding a workout buddy can actually double as a social activity that allows human connection — an added benefit in the fight against stress.
It doesn’t have to be intense to be beneficial.
You don’t need to run a marathon or become a powerlifter to reap the benefits of exercise on stress levels. Even gentle to moderate activities can help, be it yoga, brisk walking, swimming, cycling or dancing. Choose an activity that you enjoy and that makes you happy, and feel your stress melt away.