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All humans deal with stress in some form or another. Although some stress is good for us (eustress), many people correlate stress with a negative experience. Negative stress comes from the mind and body's reaction to a dangerous or harmful situation. The interesting thing about stress, however, is the situation only needs to be perceived as dangerous as opposed to actually being dangerous to get a stress response from some people. So, although we all have stress, we may not all perceive certain situations as stressful. Regardless of which scenarios are causing stress, we all need a way to manage it. Exercise is one of the best ways to do that.
Prolonged and unmanaged stress can be incredibly detrimental to almost every system in the body. The following are a few examples of the impact of stress on the body:
Nervous System: Along with a handful of other impacts to the nervous system, stress is believed to decrease brain size and cause structural changes that can impact cognition and memory.
Immune System: Stress can heavily suppress the immune system. Research has shown that high levels of stress could decrease our good cells (NK cells and cytotoxic T lymphocytes) and increase cancerous cells in the body.
Cardiovascular System: The cardiovascular system takes a big hit when the body experiences prolonged or severe stress. Stress can affect heart rate, blood pressure, and heart muscle contraction strength, all of which can lead to more serious issues.
Gastrointestinal (GI) System: Stress can alter appetite, play a role in poor nutrient absorption, alter the intestines and contribute to other inflammatory diseases of the GI tract (1).
Regular exercise has shown to have a positive impact on stress relief (2). However, just as each individual experiences a different level of stress and reacts to different scenarios, it's important that each individual explores their own unique approach to the types of exercise that help them best manage their stress. If you aren't sure where to begin with your clients, the following is a list of a few of our favorite workouts that can reduce stress.
The ancient practice of yoga has shown to have a positive impact on an individual's psychological state (3). The deep breathing, body awareness, meditation and postures are all valuable in relieving stress. Yoga is an exercise that truly can be for everyone. And, there are many different types of yoga. So, whether a client's preference is Vinyasa (flow yoga), Sivananda (relaxing basic postures), or power yoga (faster paced yoga) they should be able to find a practice that helps balance their body and mind. Ramp up your yoga expertise with the ISSA's Yoga Instructor Certification.
A tai chi workout is low impact workout that combines a series of flowing movements with breathing techniques. The breathing exercises and flowing motions can support a meditative state that can help focus the find on the present state and ward off stress.
Some people want to channel their stress into aggression. Kickboxing is a healthy way to do that. The movements get the heart pumping and energy flowing, but the punching, kicking, and aggressive footwork can help work out frustration. Consistent kickboxing can also help people feel strong, confident, and in control. The combination of those positive emotions can be an important component for stress relief.
A good run is a form of physical activity that many people use to unwind. The challenge with stress and physical activity is that sometimes the stress decreases an individual's desire to prioritize a workout. However, the outdoor air or the steady hum of the treadmill combined with extra endorphins and the time to untangle thoughts is invaluable when trying to manage stress.
Sometimes just getting the body moving in the simplest way can work wonders. Much like running, but without as much stress on the joints, walking can help an individual clear their mind and boost endorphins. There may even be additional stress reduction benefits when the walk is in a forest type landscape (forest bathing) (4). So, encourage your clients to grab their walking shoes and their walking buddy and head out in nature, if possible.
Much like kickboxing, strength training can be a great outlet for stress relief. Moving heavy things and accomplishing challenging exercises is a healthy way to combat stress. In addition to the increased endorphins, positive changes in the body, and the released aggression, strength training can also contribute to a more positive mood.
Although many forms of physical activity have shown to have a positive effect on stress reduction, one of the most important elements of stress relief is finding what works for the individual. Does running increase their stress level? Is fresh air most important factor? Does your client just need to get their body moving or does finding a class where they can connect with other people help reduce their stress? Encourage clients to consider all the variables that can help reduce stress and help them narrow down the best fit.
Are you wanting to get certified? Expand your expertise and start helping more clients—get started today with ISSA's Personal Training Certification!
Yaribeygi, Habib et al. "The impact of stress on body function: A review." EXCLI journal vol. 16, page(s): 1057-1072. 21 Jul. 2017
Edenfield, T. M., & Blumenthal, J. A. "Exercise and stress reduction". In R. J. Contrada & A. Baum (Eds.), The handbook of stress science: Biology, psychology, and health. page(s): 301-319. 2011
Sharma, Manoj. " Yoga as an Alternative and Complementary Approach for Stress Management: A Systematic Review." Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, Volume: 19 issue: 1, page(s): 59-67. 2014
Morita, E., "Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction." *Public Health*. Volume: 121, Issue: 1, page(s) 54-63. 2007
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