This TED talk by Kelly McGonigal is worth a look.
She talks about the research on how our attitude toward stress makes all the difference in how our body reacts. There is a benefit to viewing the stress response in your body – racing heart, butterflies in your stomach, breathing heavier – as a good thing. She sites a few studies about this.
When subjects were told that stress is good for their body, their body responded to stress by relaxing blood vessels, decreasing the wear and tear on the cardiovascular system. When subjects believed stress was bad, the vessels tightened, increasing the stress on the cardiovascular system! The belief changed how the body responded.
In another study, people surveyed who reported a high level of stress within the past year had a much higher risk of dying that year – BUT that was ONLY for the people who stated they believe that stress was bad for them. Those who said they had more stress but stress was good for them had the same risk of dying as those without a high level of stress. How is that for a mind-body connection! Check out the video for the full details.
What about when we exercise? Exercise is “stress” on the body in a good way. Exercise has that same effect as positive thinking on blood vessels – relaxes and opens them to reduce wear and tear and allow ease of blood flow. Exercise also lowers the effects that mental stress can have on the body.
These studies make me wonder about our attitude toward exercise. A patient told me of the term “Dreadmill” instead of treadmill. What impact does this cleaver yet negative word play have on the body? If you continually think “I hate exercise” – what does that do to the body when you do exercise? These studies tell us it might reduce the great disease fighting benefits of exercise.
What can we do to change our attitude about exercise to maximize the benefits:
- Seeing the stress of fitting in exercise a good thing – as a good challenge
- Focusing on what is good about exercising, really savoring that great feeling when you did it
- Finding types of exercise that are enjoyable to you right now
- Choosing a positive environment – people, places, etc.
- Adopting the phrase “something is better than nothing” instead of the all or nothing attitude
- Accepting our current state of fitness and health – focus on what is possible vs. what is not possible right now
- Avoiding negative and sarcastic comments about exercise
- Replacing judgement – of ourselves and others – with encouragement
A simple shift in how we think about exercise could boost the benefits. This might require changing how, when, where and with whom we exercise – but worth it to keep moving forward toward the goal of living healthier.
Keep Moving, Be Well~