Stress is everywhere. It’s neither good nor bad. It just is. What you do, or don’t do, in response to stress is the key. It is unmanaged stress where the issue lies.
By nature, our body is designed to survive and to do so in the most efficient way possible; to use the least amount of energy. If our body is not energy efficient, in times of low energy availability, there will be a problem.
Exercise includes all forms of physical activity from going for a brisk walk to a structured training session and even manual labor. There is no denying that exercise is a stressor. It is stress that triggers the body to adapt. Your body’s primary function is survival. By stressing the tissues, organs, and systems of the body through exercise, they adapt by getting stronger and more efficient so the next time they are stressed they can respond in the most energy-efficient manner possible.
However, dose matters. Too little stress and your body won’t get sufficient stimulus to adapt positively. Too much stress and your body will adapt in ways that may not be of your choosing. Your heart may pump faster as a result of chronically elevated stress hormones and your blood vessels constrict causing blood pressure to rise. Respiration may increase causing respiratory alkalosis and your liver may excrete more glucose to prepare you for the flight or fight that never comes putting you at risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
Once upon a time, stress was associated with physical activity. Humans worked the land and traveled the plains, kids ran around playing hide and seek or play fighting and we occasionally found ourselves facing off or running from predators or enemies.
We may have experienced high levels of acute stress and the resultant fight, flight, freeze responses, but importantly, we also experienced physical activity along with it. All of these activities involved an elevation of our heart rate, increased respiration, the release of stress hormones like adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine and afterward, a release of those feel-good endorphins.
Importantly, our bodies got to express movement and physical exertion associated with the stress response.
Today, we experience the same physiological responses; elevated heart rate, increased respiratory rate and the release of stress hormones, often without physical activity. Instead of playing hide and seek, we play video games or scroll social media. Instead of working the land, we sit at a desk under fluorescent lights. Instead of facing off with predators, we engage in Twitter arguments.
We get the same physiological fight, flight, freeze responses as our ancestors, but critically without the same expression of movement and physical exertion.
There are consequences to this lack of physical activity; disease, dysregulation and physical and mental ill-health.
Personally, if I sit in a classroom or office all day, by the evening I am restless, irritated and I feel mentally exhausted. Do that for a few days and I feel mentally and physically spent. I will crave physical activity and movement. It’s in my nature as it is in yours.
When you exercise, you get the all-important physical activity your body needs to help it process and deal with the physiological responses to stress; the things nature gave you to protect and serve you on the understanding that you would continue to maintain a high level of physical activity.
Generally speaking, we no longer move as much as we once did, so we have to rely on more formal methods of physical activity like structured training sessions as well as being mindful of getting as much regular daily movement as we can.
The SH//FT General Human Preparedness (GHP) program is one way you can use exercise to stave off the negative effects of stress from work, relationships…. life.
The GHP program is specifically designed to give you just the right dose of stress to stimulate the adaptations you need to develop and maintain a solid foundation of fitness; to be a generally prepared human.
While structured training sessions are a fantastic way to manage stress, that’s not all there is. Brisk walking is an often overlooked simple form of exercise that can have a dramatic effect on how you think and feel.
The physiological benefits are many. Brisk walking can,
- -improve cardiac health.
- -prevent weight gain.
- -reduce risk of cancer and chronic disease.
- -improve endurance, circulation, and posture.
Psychologically, brisk walks can,
- -increase creative output.
- -boost joviality, vigor, attentiveness and self-confidence.
- -reduce rumination of negative experiences.
- -improve memory and prevent the deterioration of brain tissue as we age.
- -relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Brisk walking has the added bonus of getting you outside and off your butt, along with opening up your field of view and getting you into natural light; proven ways of improving relaxation and regulating your circadian rhythm.
Some of the most successful and famous people in the world were known to take long walks at least once a day. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and polymath conducted his lectures while walking the grounds of his school in Athens. Charles Darwin even had a gravel track installed in the grounds of his home. He would walk laps of the track, the number of which depending on the difficulty of the problem he was grappling with.
“Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far.”
~ Thomas Jefferson
Whether your exercise takes the form of a session of Yoga, slamming iron or simply going for a brisk walk it is essential to your health and well-being. You will experience stress whether you like it or not and one of the keys to managing your stress is regular exercise. Get your heart pumping, breathe a bit more and move your body each and every day in order to manage the stress of modern life. It’s in your nature.