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Exercise for Stress Relief

Stress relief through exercise is not a new trend.  It may seem this way with all of the mind body movements that have made their way into the industry such as yoga, pilates and tai chi.  Keep in mind, however, that yoga and tai chi have been around for thousands of years.  Although, incorporating mindful awareness and breath to physical activity seems new to westerners, exercise has always been a form of stress release.  The mere act lifting weights requires much focus and breath work.

One does not need to be consciously meditating during exercise for it to be successful in relieving stress.  It happens naturally.  Stress is caused by our fight and flight responses.  Throughout our lives, we are bombarded by situations that make us want to fight or run away.  This comes from our primal instincts to run away from predators or fight them if need be.  However, the things we fear in modern society are not lions or bears so we suppress our instinct to run or fight.  The adrenalin that is released to help give us the boost of energy in order to react remains stagnant in the system and leads to stress.  Physical exertion allows us to use up the pent up energy that our adrenaline has released.  Most people feel refreshed and  relaxed after a workout.

Exercise also makes us less susceptible to stress.  How?  We  put stress on our body when we exercise. As a result, our muscles and heart get stronger.  When we are stronger, we can handle more.  We feel more confidant, and more capable.  The things that once winded us or made us sore such as walking up a hill or lifting a baby or become easier.

The downside is that sometimes we over train which can lead to burnout or injuries.  It is important to rest a muscle the day after you train it for strength so the muscle can heal and get stronger.  Also, it is important to eat a nutrient dense, balanced diet in order to give the body energy and provide it with recovery nutrients so it may heal and get stronger.  Sometimes we need to rest.  Sometimes we just need to take in some deep breaths and get away from the hassles of our lives.  If pushing yourself to the limit on the weight floor or the cardio machine becomes more of a chore than an escape, try a fun dance class, a relaxing yoga class, or maybe just a relaxing nature jog or walk.  Knowing how to relax is just as much a part of fitness as strength and aerobics training.

It is my belief that exercise is the greatest tool to help release stress.  Many people release stress through drinking or smoking.  Unlike these unhealthy escapes, there are countless benefits to exercise.

By Rhea Morales

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