There’s one strategy that fights off stress and also gives you energy to burn, writes Rosie Brogan.
Funnily enough, when we’re stressed, often the first thing we do is go and exercise. Yet breaking a sweat is the best activity for keeping stress at bay.
Take this Finnish study: scientists from the University of Kuopio’s Department of Physiology put teachers, aged from 33 to 62, through a rigorous cycling test, then measured their physiological changes. Results suggested that higher aerobic fitness may reduce perceived work stress, lower heart rates and reduced muscle tension.
As Simon Reynolds, author of mental fitness book Why People Fail, puts it: “If you don’t exercise, you’re just kidding yourself if you think you’re making the most of your energy potential. You’ll be stuck in first gear… When you exercise at least three times a week your energy goes through the roof. You think better, can concentrate for longer and you’re more optimistic to boot.”
The Mental Health Association (MHA) of NSW agrees. Acknowledging that a major source of stress is repetitive days of work or study, the Association says exercise combats stress and protects our wellbeing.
It works like this: physical activity promotes the release of endorphins (the ‘happy hormones’), releases mood-lifting chemicals such as adrenalin, triggers serotonin to improve your sleep, and heightens feelings of euphoria -thanks to the chemical dopamine.
How to get more of it in your day
1. Walk part of the way to work
As the MHA says, “Starting the day with gentle physical activity loosens the muscles and clears the mind.” If you commute, try parking your car a little bit further away than you normally might - this makes for a restful start and finish to the day (provided you’re not running late!).
2. ‘Take ten’ a day
For those who rarely exercise, Reynolds suggests starting with a ten-minute walk upon rising. “Ten minutes is nothing. Anyone can do ten minutes. But you just watch what happens,” he says. “Your blood flow will improve, your lungs will get more oxygen, and your whole body (and mind) will feel so much better for it.” After a week, move to 20 minutes, he advises - fitness will soon become a natural part of your life.
3. Fine-tune your work routine
If you’re uber-busy, it’s work that typically derails exercise attempts. One solution: make opportunities to move during your day. Start by creating ‘email-free periods’ and if you need to communicate with colleagues, walk over! Also try to do short stretching routines every hour, and store dumb bells and weights under your desk so you can get outside and move your muscles, (or, if you’re game, rap out a few sets before taking your lunch), advises the MHA.
References available on request