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Exercise as a Method of Stress Control

written by: hchristina11 • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 6/29/2011

Learn how exercise and stress control are interrelated. Using exercise as a method for stress control has been proven to be effective and can be sought as a natural alternative to orthodox treatments for stress disorders.

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    Exercise is an effective method to control stress levels in everyday life. Stress is a physiological response to negative emotions. Engaging in exercise helps control and regulate negative emotional states and can reverse body processes that contribute to anxiety, depressed moods, and even physical pain. The human stress reaction results from a combination of over 1,500 biochemical responses which include neurotransmitters being activated, hormones being released, and nutrients being metabolized. Exercise and stress control are interrelated, and engaging in regular exercise helps regulate the body's physiological reaction to stressful situations and bring it to a homeostatic state.

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    Physiological Stress Response

    During any time of stress an individual's muscles tend to contract. Prolonged stress leads to chronic muscle stiffness and pain. Moderate daily exercise helps to work the muscles and bring them back to a state of relaxation. It can address painful physical conditions associated with stress including tension headaches and temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ). In addition, the body's natural "feel-good" chemicals, endorphins, are released which lead to feelings of well-being and sometimes even euphoria which is experienced by long distance runners who report having a "runner's high" after a session.

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    Positive Benefits of Exercise

    All exercise can have a positive effect on stress, but regular and relatively pleasurable exercise will be of most benefit. For instance, a brisk walk or jog three times a week can have many of the same stress busting benefits that a mini vacation can. Twenty minutes of solitude can help an individual dealing with stress see the situation in a more positive light. Enhanced circulatory function during exercise delivers needed oxygen and mood enhancing neurotransmitters to the brain contributing to more effective introspection. Sleep disturbances are common amongst people under stress, and these disturbances are shown to exacerbate stressful conditions. Regular moderate exercise helps the body to cope and has a therapeutic effect on sleep cycles.

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    Exercise as Meditation

    Researchers have likened exercise to meditation in that healthy breathing patterns are established during the process and the repetitive movements of exercise mimic those of more traditional meditative practices. It seems resting nerve cells in the brain have a propensity for worry, and thinking repetitive negative thoughts builds waste products in the synapse that can lead to foggy thinking. Exercise stimulates these neurons, increases waste removal, and has a cathartic effect on negative emotional states. In addition, it has been shown that the physical challenges overcome by establishing a regular exercise regimen have a self-esteem boosting effect for the individual.

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    Types of Exercise

    Exercise and stress control methods like deep breathing go hand in hand. When choosing an exercise program, consider all options including those which are not too familiar. A new form of activity has the capability to break up a humdrum routine. Bike riding, walking, yoga, tai-chi, and swimming are some common sports practiced when using exercise as a method of stress control. Weight lifting and other strength exercise is especially beneficial to those dealing with adrenaline from states of anger or fear. Playing on a team or training for a competition can help motivate and facilitate positive social interaction and support.

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    References

    Mayo Clinic: Exercise and Stress: Get Moving to Combat Stress - www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise-and-stress/SR00036

    University of New Mexico: Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight - www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/stresscortisol.html