Sweating your stress away

by 18 Mar 2008

With the holidays long gone and the year moving along at full steam, having a full workload combined with family and social commitments often brings up a familiar word – stress!

Stress is a by-product of our evolution, where the body tenses and releases hormones to prep us for physical activity – in ancient times, that usually meant a physical fight for survival. Since our physiology hasn’t changed all that much from our cave-dwelling ancestors, our bodies are tuned to respond to stress in the same way. Most people today, however, don’t deal with their stress in a constructive, physical manner. Avoiding this release can add to the effects of stress, resulting in a variety of health issues, such as high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression to name a few.

Exercise can help relieve stress. Aerobic exercise, such as running, cycling and swimming can have an effect similar to meditation, where the repetitive movements and breathing create a calming effect and release endorphins.

Anaerobic exercise, such as weightlifting, can have a different effect. Lifting weights increases testosterone levels, which can make one more aggressive and focused during an intense session. Afterwards, there’s a feeling of relaxation due to the high expenditure of energy, as well as the satisfaction of having challenged oneself.

Among other things, anaerobic activity can improve the cardiovascular system, while aerobic activity stimulates muscle growth. Both adaptations increase overall health and energy, but also help one get in tune with their bodies, making it easier to recognise the early stages of stress before problems arise.

Physically fit people typically respond better to stress, rest more effectively, get sick less often and recover from injury or illness faster. The bottom line for individuals is a longer, more fulfilling life. The bottom line for businesses is having employees who are present and more productive. For all, encouraging a healthy lifestyle should be an essential part of personal and professional development.

By Brian Merrill, certified fitness trainer. Email b.e.merrill@gmail.com