How To Use Physical Activities To Eliminate Stress

How Stress Affects The Body and Mind

Stress has several negative effects upon the body. Everyone reacts to stress in different ways. Stress is technically defined as the brains response to an external demand. What typically causes stress is a change of some kind, be it of any kind of extremity. Changes that cause stress can be anything, such as small things like having to change the route you take on your commute to work or having to buy a different kind of cereal than one might be used to. Larger kinds of stressors can be things like the diagnosis of a major illness, the loss of a friend or family member, a car accident, and so on.

There are generally three types of negative stress, as categorized by National Institute of Mental Health:

– Routine stress related to the pressures of work, family and other daily responsibilities.

– Stress brought about by sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness.

– Traumatic stress, experienced in an event like a major accident, war, assault or a natural disaster where one may be seriously hurt or in danger of being killed.

Constant stress may result in things such as digestive problems, headaches, sleeplessness, depressed mood, anger, irritability. forgetfulness, or frequent illness due to the immune system being suppressed.

Stretching Out
(Photo credit: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums)

Exercising to Reduce Stress

Exercise of any kind increases heart rate, which at first may seem like something that would promote stress, seeing as a result of stress, especially an adrenaline rush, also increases heart rate. But the raise in heart rate from exercising is not as sudden. This raising in heart rate is associated with the body’s need for more oxygen, which in turn improves the circulatory and muscular system.

Stress actually causes atrophy to the brain due to the fight-or-flight nature of stress. When one is stressed out, certain functions in the body and brain take the back seat to other things that are more associated with survival mechanisms. The more someone is stressed out, the more these “secondary” functions are not used, such as the digestive system and long-term memory. Exercise offsets this action by providing action to all aspects of the body, especially the brain and the parts therein that are being atrophied by stress. Blood flow improves to these areas, giving them more work, and as a result, making them stronger. Thus is why it has been noticed in the medical community that exercise improves memory and has been speculated to make someone smarter.

Aside from improving memory and the circulatory system, exercise causes the release of endorphins in the brain, such as serotonin, that are known as the “feel good” chemicals. If done on a consistent basis, the presence of these chemicals will become constant, letting someone feel good all the time.

Exercise improves a constant sleep schedule, allowing someone to get to sleep at the right time and stay asleep, waking up early and actually feeling rested. Stress promotes the opposite of this, causing someone’s mind to run when they lay down to go to sleep, causing sleeplessness.

And lastly, exercise causes the systems of the body to become “closer” to each other. When working out, the circulatory system communicates more with the renal system (which is the system in the body that regulates the kidneys and waste) along with the muscular system. The pathways in the brain become more honed in to communicating with each other. All this improves the pathways in the body to better cope with stress when it arises.

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Denise Grener is a Product Designer at Pulse Performance Products and a wellnes advocate. She enjoys activities that are good for the body, mind and spirit.

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