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Exercise Provides Stress & Anxiety Relief

  [ 27 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • March 19, 2003

As the nation marks the first anniversary of the horrific events of Sept. 11, medical experts are finding that Americans still suffer from stress, tension, anxiety and depression arising from the attacks. The American Council on Exercise reminds Americans that one of the most effective methods of relieving stress is exercise.

“Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, has consistently shown to be effective in helping individuals manage psychological stress,” said Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., FACSM, and chief exercise physiologist/vice president of educational services for ACE. “Research also indicates that exercise seems to relieve mild depression and helps people maintain their ‘cool’ during trying times.”

ACE, America’s leading nonprofit fitness advocate, offers the following tips to help individuals cope with the stress and anxiety from Sept. 11:

Exercise can help you feel less anxious.

Exercise is being prescribed in clinical settings to help treat nervous tension. Following a session of exercise, clinicians have measured a decrease in electrical activity of tensed muscles. People have been less jittery and hyperactive after an exercise session.

Exercise can relax you.

One exercise session generates 90 to 120 minutes of relaxation response. Some people call this post-exercise euphoria or endorphin response. We now know that many neurotransmitters, not just endorphins, are involved. The important thing though is not what they're called, but what they do: They improve your mood and leave you relaxed.

Exercise can make you feel better about yourself.

Think about those times when you've been physically active. Haven't you felt better about yourself? That feeling of self-worth contributes to stress relief.

Exercise can make you eat better.

People who exercise regularly tend to eat more nutritious food. And it's no secret that good nutrition helps your body manage stress better.

It's time to get started

Now that you know exercise can make a big difference in controlling stress, make some time for regular physical activity. To help you get started, we have listed three activities to choose from:

Aerobic activity. All it takes is 20 minutes, six to seven days a week. Twenty minutes won't carve a big chunk out of your day, but it will improve your ability to control stress significantly.

Yoga. In yoga or yoga-type activities, your mind relaxes progressively as your body increases its amount of muscular work. Recent studies have shown that when large muscle groups repeatedly contract and relax, the brain receives a signal to release specific neurotransmitters, which in turn make you feel relaxed and more alert.

Recreational sports. Play tennis, racquetball, volleyball or squash. These games require the kind of vigorous activity that rids your body of stress-causing adrenaline and other hormones.

Not just any exercise will do

Don't try exercising in your office. Outdoors or away from the office is the best place to find a stress-free environment. Even a corporate fitness center can have too many work-related thoughts for some people.

Stay away from overcrowded classes. If you work surrounded by people, a big exercise class may be counterproductive. Solo exercise may be more relaxing for you. If, however, you work alone, you may enjoy the social benefit of exercising in a group. A lot depends on your personality and what causes stress for you.

Don't skip a chance to exercise. Take a break every 90 minutes and you'll be doing yourself a favor. Ninety-minute intervals are a natural work-break period. And four 10-minute exercise breaks at this time will burn about as many calories as a solid 40-minute session. Work-break exercises can be as simple as walking or climbing stairs, stretching or doing calisthenics.

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