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Stress and Exercise

Let’s face it, we live in a fast paced, high tech, competitive and often troubled society. Often the result is chronic stress. Too much stress can causes serious problems. First, researchers have found that the people most likely to be stressed, those with a Type A personality, are two to three times more likely to die from coronary heart disease. Second, and related, stress can actually make you fat.

Before discussing why exercise is the best antidote for stress, I think it is helpful to understand why stress has these effects on us. It boils down to the simple fact that our bodies cannot tell the difference between stress caused by a physical threat, one we must physically fight or run away from, and the chronic, emotional stress we are most likely to face everyday. Since our bodies can’t tell the difference, they react the same way to both. Our bodies react by providing maximum strength and energy to fight or run. This is done by releasing the hormones adrenalin, cortisol and insulin. The result is 5 – 10 minutes of quick energy due to the release of stored fuel in the body (fat and glucose). That’s great if you must fight or run away from a physical threat, but when was the last time you did that? 

Unfortunately, when we face our most common stressors, we are sitting at our desk or behind the wheel. We don’t physically fight or run. Instead, we remain sedentary. So what happens to all that fat and glucose in our blood stream that was supposed to give us quick energy? Well, the job of the third hormone released by the body, insulin, is to get the fat and glucose out of the blood stream and store it for future use. The insulin often does this so well that we feel hungry. So the insulin stores the fat and glucose as fat, most of it saved in the middle section of the body. We eat more because we are hungry, and that gets stored too. If we face prolonged or chronic stress, this cycle is repeated over and over, storing more and more fat on our midriffs and sometimes even leading to an additional problem from insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Research has proven that the very best treatment for stress and all of its negative effects is NOT found at the drug store, but in the gym. Exercise is the cure, plain and simple. Physically, exercise burns fat and glucose, reduces cholesterol and triglycerides, improves all cardiovascular functions, and keeps hormones balanced. It helps our bodies work efficiently and well. Mentally, exercise calms our negative emotions and actually stimulates positive biochemical changes that improve mood and relieve pain. A fit person can deal with stress much better than people who are sedentary.

So, exercise IS the answer. BUT be careful. Too much exercise will only add to the stress. Doing an exercise improperly or doing the wrong exercise could hurt us. In addition, we need a proper balance of aerobic and weight resistance exercise for optimal results. Variety and periodic change in the exercise routine is also important. The best advice is to seek the help of a professional, a certified personal trainer. And, if you have not exercised recently, consult with your physician before starting.

The researchers continue to find more evidence of the harmful effects of chronic stress and its resulting, serious consequences to our health. That’s the bad news. The good news is that, with each discovery, the best cure is the same, a properly designed exercise program. We may not be able to eliminate the causes of chronic stress, but we can deal with it better. The sooner you start, the better.

This article was provided by Fitness Together
For more information on Fitness Together, check out their full profile here.
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