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Living With Chronic Stress? How an Exercise Routine Can Help

Despite your best efforts, stress is likely a common part of your life. But finding the right techniques to manage stress can make it much less intimidating. It’s no secret that exercise is an incredibly effective method for combatting chronic stress. Here’s how exercise helps eliminate stress and some tips on starting and sticking to a routine. 

Want to better manage your stress? Watch our free webinar to get started.

What’s the Problem with Stress?

Stress isn’t technically a disease – although it can impact your health in the long run. Rather, stress is a response to a perceived threat. This  innate response increases your alertness, tenses your muscles, and heightens your blood pressure. But typically, stress isn’t brought on by a physical attack. 

As a result, this natural response meant to protect you can instead give you headaches, extended muscle tension, sleep troubles, indigestion, and other symptoms.  And if you experience stress regularly, it can contribute to various health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety disorders, and gastrointestinal disorders.

The Link Between a Sedentary Lifestyle and Stress

While you may know that exercise combats stress, have you considered how sitting influences your responses to stress? Too much sitting isn’t just harmful to your physical health. A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to mental health concerns, including chronic stress. 

Sitting for more than eight hours a day can decrease motivation, contribute to fatigue, and make it difficult for your body to manage stress properly. If left unchecked, stress, anxiety, and depression can worsen over time, making it even more difficult to be active, which in turn further worsens stress and mental health issues.

The most common sedentary activities involve screen time. Browsing the internet, scrolling through social media, and watching TV are just a few examples. Stress and screen time are closely related. Studies show that individuals who report using screens for entertainment had up to 19% more stress. 

The lights and stimuli from screens cause repeated stress on your central nervous system. As a result, you may find yourself feeling angry or irritable, which are both common traits in people who are stressed. Taking breaks from the screen can go a long way in reducing your stress. Moreover, replacing time that would have otherwise been spent sedentary with physical activity is one of the best ways to manage your stress. 

How Exercise Combats Stress

Exercise allows your muscles to move, encourages blood flow, and helps you breathe deeper. In addition, it triggers releases of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which all have direct effects on your mood. There are several direct benefits of exercise on stress. 

Pumping Up Endorphins and Other Neurotransmitters

When you physically exert yourself, your brain experiences a release of endorphins that help relieve stress and pain. Physical activity also stimulates the release of other brain chemicals – such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin – which all play an essential part in regulating your mood. 

Exercise also helps balance stress hormones, such as cortisol. Too much cortisol can damage your health, so it’s important to keep this in check. 

Building Stress Buffers

Exercise is a physical stressor that can help make you more resilient to general stress. Studies show that while exercise causes an initial spike of stress response in the body, people experience lower levels of stress hormones after bouts of physical activity. 

Also, exercise gives your body a chance to practice dealing with stress. Exercise causes your body’s physiological systems to communicate closely with one another, which is the same thing that happens when you are faced with a stressful event. These practice runs may help you handle stress better in everyday life. So the more sedentary you are, the less efficient your body will be in responding to stress.

Improving Sleep 

Sleep is a powerful stress reducer. Physical activity has been shown to improve sleep for many people. Specifically, moderate-to-vigorous exercise can increase sleep quality and reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep at night. Additionally, physical activity can help alleviate daytime sleepiness. 

Tips for Incorporating Exercise into Your Routine

Many people can be hesitant to embrace an exercise regimen at first. About 75% of adults in the United States aren’t getting their weekly amount of recommended exercise, which is between 150 minutes and 300 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. But if that sounds intimidating, even small changes can reduce your sedentary time and have a big impact on your wellbeing. 

1. Start with Small, Mindful Movements

One of the easiest ways to exercise without even realizing it is to replace sedentary moments with small, mindful movements. Doing wall sits during commercial breaks or seated leg extensions in your office are just a few examples of how to start doing this. Performing any small activity in 20 reps or holding a stretch for 60 seconds can easily be integrated into your routine throughout the day. 

2. Set Yourself Up for Success

If you have trouble fitting exercise into your schedule, try setting reminders to get up and move during the day. Many smartphone and desktop applications are available that do just this. 

Another way to ensure you stick to the routine is to remove obstacles. Do you feel like your mornings are too rushed? Get your workout clothes out the night before so you’re ready to go as soon as you get up. 

3. Make It Fun

Choose activities that are interesting to you. Dancing, rock climbing, and biking are examples of fun activities that are also great sources of exercise. If you don’t enjoy the activity, it will be infinitely harder to stick with. Variety is also a great way to keep things fun. For example, doing a 30-minute interval circuit is often more appealing than spending an hour on the treadmill.

4. Find a Friend

Exercising with a friend not only makes it seem like less of a chore but it also keeps you accountable. Plus, this is a great way to strengthen and grow relationships, which are increasingly linked to better overall health.  

5. Give Yourself a Break

Remember that your body needs one or two days of rest each week to reap the full benefits of exercise. This allows your muscles and bones time to mend and strengthen and reduces burnout. If you still want to move on off days, go out for a mellow walk or do some light stretching. 

Functional Medicine Support

Exercise is one aspect of the whole person approach used in functional medicine. This essentially uses movement as medicine to help your body heal. 

Functional medicine emphasizes the importance of helping you identify what types of physical activity you enjoy the most to create a sustainable change in your routine. At Tri-Cities Functional Medicine, we work with you to make sure the exercise you take on isn’t too much. It is often best to ease into exercise in terms of duration and frequency to limit added stresses on the body and avoid burnout. 

It’s also important to change up your workout routine as you age. When younger, your body will benefit from cardio and weight training. On the other hand, exercises that focus on flexibility, balance, and strength training will be more important to prevent falls and avoid muscle wasting at an older age. 

Want to learn more about how functional medicine could help you manage your stress? Take the first step:

  1. Watch our free webinar to learn about our approach to the health concerns you are facing.
  2. Schedule a Free Discovery Call to discuss your health concerns and goals to see if our practice is a good fit for you.
  3. After your discovery call – if we are a good fit, you’ll schedule a consultation with our doctor to dive deeper and formulate an individualized treatment plan for you.

Tri-Cities Functional Medicine is located in Johnson City, Tennessee, and serves patients throughout Tennessee and into Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky. These areas include but are not limited to: Washington County, TN, Sullivan County, TN, Carter County, TN, Greene County, TN, Knox County, TN, Bristol, TN, Holston Valley, TN, Tri-Cities, TN, Walnut Hill, TN, Elizabethton, TN, Greeneville, TN, Morristown, TN, Blountville, TN, Bluff City, TN, Kingsport, TN, Jonesborough, TN, Colonial Heights, TN, Limestone, TN, Knoxville, TN, Bristol, VA, Abingdon, VA, Grundy, VA, Asheville, NC, Boone, NC.