I recently read a story about stress. No numbers, no research, just a story. Some people deal with stress better than others, but we all have it in our lives.
The story goes ‘A professor is holding a glass of water and asks his class “How heavy is this glass of water?” Many answers are called out, but the professor responds to them all by saying “The absolute weight does not matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it.”’
Stress is the same way. It can start out manageable, but the longer we hold on to it, the heavier it becomes. What was once a little worry can quickly grow into an overwhelming ulcer. It all depends on how long you hold on to the stress, and what you do to control it. You may not notice how much stress you carry until it starts going away.
The MayoClinic.com recently posted that “Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, which puts more pep in your step every day. But exercise also has some direct stress-busting benefits. It pumps up your endorphins. It’s meditation in motion. It improves your mood.”
Have you noticed when you exercise that you think clearer? Many runners report that although they might not have initially formed a habit of running with the goal of running to clear their mind, as the habit developed, they found that going on a run helps them think more clearly. This is due to endorphins, which are released as you exercise.
Running isn’t the only way to exercise, of course. In fact, meditation is a form of exercise. For instance, Yoga. Yoga is a prime example of exercise involving meditation. Known for its stress reducing effects, Yoga might not be the first thing that enters your mind when you consider a workout, but it is a fantastic example of meditational exercise.
And what about your mood? When you experience a high level of stress, if you’re like most of us you probably notice your mood becomes less positive, you can be more irritable and small issues can appear bigger than they actually are. You guessed it, exercise can help here too. While participating in exercise the endorphins your body releases help elevate your mood, which in turn can decrease the symptoms of your stress, elevating your mood.
Stress can also be a factor of weight gain. Julie Kokinakes Anderson, RD, National Nutrition Director of the new well®, states “Certain types of stress can actually lead to weight gain, especially around the belly. When we are under strain, our body reacts by increasing production of certain hormones, like Cortisol. Cortisol is an important hormone that regulates blood sugar levels by stimulating insulin release. The end result may be increased appetite, which plays a role in overeating or certain cravings when we are stressed out. The benefit of regular exercise is that it really can have a beneficial effect on normalizing Cortisol levels.”
So how do you start managing stress with exercise? Slowly. If you don’t already have a regular exercise routine, don’t jump into exercise like you’re in the middle of training for a marathon. Begin slowly, a couple times a week visit the gym and walk on the treadmill, gradually moving to jogging or running on the treadmill. Or find a fitness class that interests you. Meeting fellow members in classes can help keep you accountable to your workout, and also help ease your stress levels by involving positive communication.
Your workout schedule shouldn’t cause more stress. Be reasonable when you schedule your workout time. Don’t schedule in a workout before a huge meeting you still need to prepare for. Pencil in your workout, but make the commitment to yourself to work out a set number of times per week. To make a lifestyle change, it is recommended to workout 2-3 times per week. More than that and you run the risk of wearing yourself out. Less than 2-3 times a week and you run the risk of losing (or never forming) a workout routine or habit.
Another tip, exercise smart. If you don’t like running, don’t exercise on the treadmill. Gyms offer a wide array of options for meeting your exercise needs. From cardio equipment to free weights, weight lifting machines to aerobic classes, Zumba classes to aquatics, there is something for everyone. Find a couple classes that are interesting to you, try one new machine each week, schedule yourself with a personal trainer who can help take the stress out of developing a workout routine. Pair your workout with your interests and you’re more likely to keep exercising, and keep your routine fresh, changing it up frequently.
So how much does your stress weigh? Try the new well, and see if more than just your weight goes away.