SHAPING UP: There are so many ways in which exercise can help reduce stress

A few months ago, after the third lockdown, a woman called Lisa, who is a 46-year-old mam of two, who runs her own business, joined boot camp and asked me for some help with her health and fitness.

Tuesday, 24th August 2021, 12:00 am
Sprint it out, lift weights or go for a long bike ride.

She used to travel a lot for work and her business was constantly evolving. But, then lockdown hit about eighteen months ago she was suddenly confined to working from home. She had to adapt her business quickly, while juggling home schooling and other pressures of Covid.

She quickly found herself in a rut; less activity, more comfort eating and more stress.

The main reason Lisa asked for my help was because she felt like she couldn’t find the right balance between work, nutrition and exercise. But, she also explained that she struggled to sleep, was always low on energy and had lots of aches and pains – all symptoms of stress!

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After speaking to Lisa about her lifestyle I advised her to make more time for herself, especially for exercise because it’s one of the quickest and most effective ways to reduce stress.

So, she now attends boot camp at least twice a week, and if she’s in busy with work she gets up half an hour earlier and does a 20-minute HIIT workout. It takes less than three hours of her week!

Within only two weeks she was seeing and feeling the benefits of exercise… Less stress, fewer cravings, more energy, better concentration and way less aches and pains.

So, how does exercise help relieve stress, and how can you use it to your advantage?

Increased EndorphinsYou've probably heard the hype around endorphins. They are your body's natural pain killers and when released, they give you a noticeable "high".Long periods of moderate to high intensity exercise increase the release of endorphins, which is why you'll often feel a lift in your spirits after a workout. leaving you less likely to feel stressed.

Fight or FlightFight or flight is your natural, pre-programmed reaction to any stressful situation. The problem, however, is that much of today's stress doesn't require either physical fighting or running, but your body still provides the chemicals for it. This can leave you feel on edge and stressed out.The best and most logical way to relieve this feeling is to actually do some exercise. Sprint it out, lift weights or go for a long bike ride. It's how your body was meant to respond.

Rhythm and FlowSome exercise, like running, cycling or lifting, lets you get into a rhythm. That rhythmic flow of a repeating action relaxes your mind. It can help clear your head after a stressful day.

Human interactionNot everyone chooses to exercise alone. Attending a spin class, joining a boot camp or going on a group run not only helps you get your daily exercise in, but also lets you interact with others who are probably experiencing the similar stress of modern-day life. This human interaction will help you release some of the negativity that is associated with stress and will make you feel less alone in your problems.

Better SleepFeeling stressed and not being able to sleep can be a vicious cycle. Lack of sleep can increase your stress and making it even harder to catch up on sleep the next night. Exercise not only helps break that cycle by better enabling you to handle stress in the first place, it also helps you feel tired at night so you can fall into a deep sleep without all the tossing and turning.

An Organised LifeStress can be brought on by a lack of organisation and planning, whether it's in your work life or home life. Following a workout plan, where you set regular, weekly goals and ultimately have a sense of achievement, will help you transfer those skills to other areas. And If your stress isn't caused by scheduling, just knowing that you have a stress-busting workout on your calendar a few times a week will help put your mind at ease.

Next time you're feeling stressed, don't reach for alcohol or comfort food, give exercise a try instead. It may just be what you need to unwind, relax and clear your head!