How many times have you put off exercising until things have “calmed down”? Until you were a little less busy and overwhelmed with life?
I’ve even said it myself (and I should know better): “I’m too stressed out to train today.”
I’ve been a personal trainer to very busy people for nearly 20 years. It’s my experience that, for many, the first thing off the to-do list when life gets nuts is exercise. It can feel like just another thing to find time for in an already crazy schedule.
But when the same super busy people put exercise on the calendar and follow through consistently, they report much lower levels of chronic stress and burnout over time.
Most people *shock horror* end up enjoying exercise and look forward to their sessions at New Image.
Exercise releases nature’s feel-good drug
I don’t claim that exercise is medicine or, or that training with a personal trainer is a cure-all that magically heals clinical anxiety and depression without treatment. That’s a common stance in fitness these days and I believe it’s irresponsible.
But here’s what we can say for sure: Exercise of just about any form can act as a stress reliever. Your body has a very specific mechanism that makes this happen.
You’ve probably heard of the “runner’s high”, but the good news is you don’t need to run to get it. (Unless running is your thing, in which case go for it!)
Any aerobic activity that gets your heart pumping will increase the production of endorphins, your brain’s neurotransmitters that make you feel good and give you that buzzing sensation of wellbeing.
But doesn’t exercise stress your body?
When you exercise, especially at high intensity, you do indeed cause stress to your body. The stress hormone cortisol is elevated as the body goes into fight or flight mode using the sympathetic nervous system.
The more we expose our bodies to this healthy stress, the better we can cope with stressful moments when they occur and the healthier our perception of stress is. For example, when you exercise regularly, your body will not be as quickly thrust into manic stress overdrive by the annoying realities of daily life, like misplacing your keys or running late for work.
Remember: it’s only stressful if you perceive it to be stressful. Your body can’t tell the difference between perception and reality, and the more we get used to experiencing stress, the less freaked out we are by it when it crops up in life.
Get out of your head, and into your body
When we typically think of stress, it’s the mental stressors that grind our gears: meeting deadlines, managing kids, financial commitments, juggling hectic schedules. By imitating this stress response through exercise, you can train your body and mind to more effectively process stress.
Not only does exercise teach our bodies how to better handle stress, it can be a meditation of sorts for many people. When you focus on what your body can do, particularly if the exercise is challenging for your fitness level, you naturally worry less about tasks and deadlines and focus instead on getting through the workout.
When you’re forced to focus on the task in front of you for the duration of your session, you’ll find that the boost in mood and focus extends beyond your exercise time and stays with you throughout the day.
Carving out time for yourself boosts wellbeing
The simple action of carving out time for yourself and committing to something that’s JUST for you creates a real sense of wellbeing and self-esteem. Do it regularly, and you’ll also feel more in control of your days and in charge of the direction of your life.
I particularly notice this with my Mum clients, who are notorious for putting the needs of everyone else ahead of their own. Even though you’re exhausted, even though it’s hard to squeeze into your day, just taking even 20 to 30 minutes to exercise can make all the difference to your perception of stress. You deserve it!
The key is to find exercise that you enjoy, make appointments with yourself to fit it in and do it regularly. Our clients find their regular personal training sessions at New Image really help them keep that commitment to themselves. It’s a formal appointment, and they know that in their half hour they’ll get the most effective session in a short amount of time.
Sleep and recovery
In general, regular exercise improves sleep as your body is more physically exhausted. By improving sleep onset, you’re less likely to lie awake at night with the day buzzing in your brain. A good night’s sleep also makes us more clear-headed and emotionally regulated the following day.
Before you jump feet first into an exercise routine, it’s important to check that you’re getting enough sleep and recovery. If your body hasn’t recovered from a high-stress environment and you pile on more, the added stress can be detrimental. This can lead to burnout and exhaustion (not what we’re after). Aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep per evening and ensure there are rest periods between stressful activities.
Exercise combined with adequate recovery is a great way to increase our tolerance to stress therefore improving stress management.
If chronic stress is a problem in your life, we reckon we can help. Click here to book your free session and design a personal training schedule that works for you.