The Scoop on Stress and Exercise
Stress is defined as a response by your body to any demand made upon it and a 'demand' means a change.
Did you know different stress levels have names? For example "Neutral" stress is the amount of work it takes to maintain normal body function. If we give stress a scale of 1- 10 where Neutral stress would be 1.
Lets take a look at Success and what it implies. Believe it or not success is a stressor, called "Eustress", which stems from the word euphoria. We can give eustress a quantitative number like 5 because it is a high intensity feeling and brings many ramifications and changes.
Now we'll take a brief peak at failure. Failure means challenge, or worst of all defeat. So failure can generate what is called "Distress", which, we'll give a number of 5 because it's implications for change are compound and also intense. I'm relinquishing the good and bad judgements on stressors and trying to quantify them based on the change from homeostasis-the norm perspective.
If our highest stress level is 10 this is when we experience all of the classic "fight and flight" signs of our body preparing for action. Hormones, like adrenaline, surge. 6 Your heartbeat and blood pressure soar. Your palms sweat. 7 Your short of breath. Your hair stands on end. 8 You've got a flock of geese flapping in your belly. Your blood sugar rises and your muscles tense. 9 Your mind is focused on fighting or flighting. If you get to 10 you'll probably mess your knickers because your system has gone berserk from over stimulation and your body will surrender. Though the odors may stop your adversary from taking that first bite. These effects, up to 9.9 unchanged for thousands of years, helped prehistoric humans survive!
The problem here is that the physical and emotional manifestations of the stress response are designed to dissipate when the immediate physical threat is over. But when they don't, over time, these over used hormones cause heart disease, hypertension, suppressed immunity, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and even depression.
The greatest defense against these physical manifestations is to realize they are caused by your hard wired prehistoric emotions. For instance, if you're late for work and you've just missed the last subway. What do you do? You can either panic, or you can just accept the situation. Relax, take a deep breath and wait for the next one. If you can change a situation, do it, if you can't, then you adapt.
Understanding stress and its effects can help you use it to your own advantage, and turn potential "stressors" into positive challenges.
Something I have always believed and now seems to be coming to light with scientific evidence is the fact that stress can actually be good for you!
The Latest Study on Stress
This is a study done recently with mice in a stressful situation. What the researchers did was they take a bunch of mice that were bullied repeatedly by a nasty mouse for a couple of hours for six consecutive days. At the end of that period the researchers infected the picked on mice with a strain of influenza that also infects humans. Other mice, not subjected to the bullying, were also infected so the scientists could measure the effects of the stress.
The bullied mice were actually better able to ward off the virus than the ones that had not had to deal with an aggressive foe. So the scientists changed the name of the stress test to "repeated defeat.".
By whatever name, the stress apparently improved the memory of the special "T cells," that run the immune system.
Low levels of stress produce hormones that help us meet various challenges, so a little of a bad thing can be good. Of course, there's still some question about whether humans will react the same as mice, but the mouse immune response is comparable to that of the humans and that's why they chose the mice.
Did we need this experiment to prove our point? Hardly. But the scientists do and here we are with more proof of what we already knew.
Since the fight-or-flight response is designed for physical action, regular exercise is the best way of dissipating the physical manifestations of stress hormones in the body. Exercise, even stretching, can relieve tension in the muscles. While fight-or-flight taxes the immune system moderate physical activity can bolster the immune response.
Exercise can also counteract the anxiety adrenaline and cortisol may cause when they flood the bloodstream for prolonged periods. Most obviously, exercise is an outlet for excess adrenaline, and has been shown to blunt cortisol production. But another way it achieves this is by releasing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain's "happy centers." This occurs most dramatically within the first 30 minutes of physical activity, then tapers off. Exercise also induces the release of endorphins, which block pain messages and can enhance mood. There are peripheral benefits to physical activity as well. The sense of self-control that comes with overcoming the anxiety provoking stress, of course the weight loss that comes with the exercise and the improved body image affects our outlook, and so our interactions with others, which in turn improve our mood.
So empower yourself and make friends with stress.
What Stress Can Do For YOU!
New research is telling us that stress should be welcomed. Increasing evidence is pointing to how stress can:
· Prevent cancer from returning
· Reduce the chance of heart attack
· Increase life expectancy
· Boost the immune system
· Increase brain power
Well, do you feel any better now?
DEBORAH is a highly respected authority in personal training for overall health and fitness, with more than 22 years of experience and success. Her credentials include...
Currently licensed Registered Nurse specializing in Rehabilitative Nursing
Medical Exercise Therapist: certified by AAHFRP, an internationally recognized physical rehabilitation certification
Maternity Specialist Pre & Post Natal certified by Maternal Fitness
Personal Fitness Specialist: certified by NASM, an internationally recognized certification
Professional Health Member, National Organization of Fitness Instructors (IDEA), a leading membership organization of health and fitness professionals
Deborah Caruana RN, MES, CPT.