A common suggestions for reducing stress is to exercise. This makes perfect senses. Much of what you feel when under stress is your body is preparing for movement.
- muscles tense ready for fight or flee danger
- sugar and fats are released into blood to fuel muscles
- heart rate goes up to send that fuel to muscles
- blood flow to digestive organs decreases to allow more blood flow to muscles
And so much more! Exercise helps the body recover from stress by giving it what it has prepared for while you are in a stress response. Even after the stress goes away, your body is still ready to move.
Then why is movement not always relaxing? Why do people with active jobs still feel stress? Why can you still feel stressed even after going to the gym?
Because our brain and body are connected by an inseparable two way street. Getting 10,000 steps working as a nurse in ICU is just not the same for the body as getting 10,000 steps while enjoying a hike with friends. One perpetuates the stress response because the brain is problem solving, the other triggers the relaxation response because the brain likes connecting to nature and other people.
This is why it is not enough to “just do” exercise. HOW we exercise has as much to do with what we get from it. Take that same hike with friends and introduce stress like a nagging worry about a work project, a heated discussion about politics, or a painful knee slowing you down. Instantly your steps are stressful not stress reducing . You still get your 10,000 steps, but the stress response drains the healing power of exercise.
When in the stress response, the body is overworking to protect you and healing is put on the back burner. When you are in a relaxation response, your body is recharging, healing and repairing. The problem is activity monitors and other ways we typically measure success with exercise do not measure this very important difference. Its up to you to determine if exercise is really giving you that healing recharge.
This is a key skill for making exercise a health producing activity. You can do this by adjusting what you are doing so your body feels good from exercise and adjusting how you are thinking about exercise, you boost the power of movement. This holds true for everything from a long workout at the gym to a brief movement break in your day. Make the most of each by setting up your mind and body to release stress and trigger healing.
This week let’s shift how we move and how we think when moving to boost our moments of recharge in mind and body.
Keep moving (recharge) and be well,