Get Moving to Manage Stress Better

Posted: October 2012

Stress.  It’s something everybody has, and it can be difficult to avoid. How we deal with stress affects our happiness and our overall health.  At times, seeing a counselor may be helpful or even sometimes medication may be indicated, but almost always, a lifestyle change will help. One such option includes a routine exercise program.

Exercise has many physical benefits such as weight loss and conditioning, but it also has mental health benefits.  People who exercise tend to manage stress better.  Here are a few of the most important explanations as to why a regular exercise program can help us manage stress.

Neurotransmitters.  Almost everyone has heard of what is sometimes referred to as a ‘runner’s high’.  With exercising, there is often a release of endorphins or neurotransmitters that make us feel good. This can occur with just about any form of exercise and is a good break from the stress that we may be feeling.

Meditation. During exercise, we tend to focus on the task at hand. This can be focusing on a certain pace, technique or even your heart rate. Whatever those focus, it isn’t the stress that we deal with, and that break is good!

Immunity. Exercise has long been known to boost the immune system. By exercising we are less likely to become ill.  Illnesses tend to make us feel frustrated an even sad which can lead us to depressive symptoms.

Achievement. When we exercise, over time, we may accomplish something we couldn’t do a couple weeks ago, or several months ago. Whether it’s finally walking a mile without stopping or completing your first marathon, the sense of accomplishment is something to be proud of, and that tends to improve our mood and de-stress us.

Now that you’re ready to exercise, where do you begin? First, make sure you’re ready to start. If you’ve had health problems in the past, check with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough to start whatever program you have in mind.

Once you are cleared to exercise, start slow. Overdoing it too soon is an easy way to get an injury and set back your exercise plan. In general, try not to increase your training by more than 10% a week. Whether you’re running, bicycling, swimming, lifting weights or whatever you enjoy, and gradual increase your efforts to avoid injury.

Keep it interesting. Once you’ve been exercising for a period of time, the same workout can become boring. Vary your running or riding route to see something new. Try mixing different forms of exercise.  Routinely doing the same exercise can lead to overuse injuries and tends to develop the muscles needed for that exercise only. Switching from running to swimming develops new muscles, and provides a new challenge if you’ve already accomplished your running goals.

While exercise may not be the complete answer, it can be a healthy way to deal with your stress while also improving mental health! So get moving and start feeling better, faster!

Thomas Gutmann, MD, is a board certified internal medicine physician on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. Dr. Gutmann obtained his medical degree from Saint Louis University and completed his residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is a member of BJC Medical Group. For appointments, call 314-996-LIFE.

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