De-stress with exercise
With Exam period just around the corner, we spoke to our Experts to get the low-down on how exercise is one of the best remedies for when we get bogged down with revision, work or home worries.
Lead Triathlon Coach Lou Barron is no stranger to stress, with her day-to-day job relying on keeping athletes in a good head space. Helen Coy, Group Exercise Instructor and all-round positive motivator, sees classes as a great way to relieve stress and switch off from work-mode for an hour.
As a way of draining off stress energy, nothing beats aerobic exercise. But, to understand why, we need to review what stress is. Stress can be different for everyone – it could be pressure at work, a demanding boss, a sick child or rush-hour traffic. All of these things may be triggers, but stress is actually the body’s reaction to factors such as these. Stress is the fight-or-flight response in the body, mediated by adrenaline and other stress hormones, and comprising such physiologic changes as increased heart rate and blood pressure, faster breathing, muscle tension, dilated pupils, dry mouth and increased blood sugar. In other words, at the basic level, stress is the state of increased arousal necessary for an organism to defend itself at a time of danger.
Barriers to exercise
Some of the common barriers that prevent us from exercising are difficult to overcome, but it’s all about finding the way that works for you to get around that barrier and ensure you fit in that fitness. One of the best ways to work around these issues is to work out what’s stopping you, and set yourself a goal.
- Time – Monitor daily activities for one week & identify spare time – even 10minutes. Plan sessions into your daily and weekly routine, calendar or revision plan. It could be things like shortened club sessions, walk or ride your bike to work/uni, exercise while you watch TV, run up the stairs, even parking further away! Select quick activities such as walking, running, stair-climbs or interval HIIT sessions.
- Lack of motivation – Join a club or do an exercise class. Download music you love so you have an awesome playlist. Invite friends or plan social activities involving exercise – maybe breakfast after a swim? Join a group or club and develop friendships with active people. Schedule in a treat when you’ve reached your goal number of sessions each day/week/month!
- Lack of energy – Schedule physical activity for times when you feel energetic OR try exercising when tired – see if it increases your energy levels
- Fear of injury – Learn how to warm up / cool down properly. Beginners – choose activities involving minimum risk and that is appropriate to your current level of fitness – not zero to hero! Experienced – choose activities aimed at maximising fitness during lower volume periods
- Weather – Think about poor weather options for example. indoor cycling, classes, swimming, indoor climbing…
- Family – Trade babysitting with a friend, neighbour, or family member who also has kids. Or why not bring the family with you! Exercise with the kids – go for a walk, play running games, do aerobics or yoga for kids and parents – there’s loads of options around to work to your situation
So why does exercise help with stress?
There are several reasons how, physically, exercise can help stress management.
- Increases soothing brain chemicals – endorphins help us to feel good, so more of these help decrease stress and make us feel more positive
- Alters blood flow – exercise increases blood flow to stress-affected areas of the brain, meaning that we do not relive stressful thoughts over and over, and stimulates growth of brain cells
- Acts like meditation in motion – whether it’s a sweaty gym session or a quiet walk, exercise will help you forget irritations by concentrating on other activities
- Health benefits – including better mental health, lower risk of developing some illnesses, better weight control, improved sleep
- Time management – fitting in a 15 minute-a-day session can aid cognitive function and performance, meaning you’ll be able to perform work or revision much better following an activity
It’s especially important to ensure you fit in exercise during exams – as much as you might feel you want to power through, taking even half an hour out to refresh your mind and body will improve your concentration, attention, memory, ability to get a good sleep, coping skills, retention of new information… the list goes on. Whilst revising can be tiring, and you might not feel like you have the energy to go on a quick run or walk around the block, mental fatigue is different to physical tiredness, and you can often feel rejuvenated and have more energy following a work out.
Check out the range of classes and activities available at Sport & Fitness here.