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How physical activity helps relieve stress

Sydney Morning Herald logoSydney Morning Herald 13/04/2019 smh.com.au
Physical activity can benefit your body and your mind. © Stocksy Physical activity can benefit your body and your mind.

We know that physical activity can benefit our bodies but, when it comes to stress relief, it is important to not overlook the benefit of regular exercise for the mind.

“Stress can be caused by many things in our busy lives, including financial pressures, health difficulties, work deadlines, and relationship issues. It can impair our sleep and our ability to deal with the everyday pressures of life,” explains general practitioner Dr Jill Gamberg.

With stress having the ability to cause or worsen anxiety and depression, impair our decision-making processes, and make us short-tempered, it is so important to move our bodies daily.

“Most of our jobs in today’s day and age are sedentary. Some of us are sitting for periods of up to 8-10 hours per day. This can have many detrimental effects on our bodies and minds," Dr Gamberg says.

“One of the best ways to help improve stress is to incorporate physical activity into our lives. Whether that is incidental activity like taking the stairs instead of the lift, or parking further away from our destination to increase the distance walked to where we are going."

Of course, there are plenty of structured physical activity options, including dance classes, HIIT training, weight lifting, pilates, yoga, running, cycling, playing tennis, and swimming. It is really about picking an option that works for you, so you are likely to incorporate it into your daily life.

“Adults should do 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week. This can be broken up into small time frames if that is easier to accomplish,” Dr Gamberg says.

The physical benefits of regular physical activity are numerous and include:

  • Improved blood circulation and delivery of oxygen to the muscles
  • Stronger muscles and bones
  • Decreased stress hormones such as cortisol
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better weight control
  • Better sleep at night
  • More energy
  • Improved self-image

“The psychological benefits of regular physical activity are also plentiful. It improves blood circulation and delivery of oxygen to the brain. This helps increase production of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that elevate mood and control pain. This can give a sense of wellbeing and even euphoria after exercise." Dr Gamberg says.

“Your strength and stamina increase and this improves self-image. You'll earn a sense of mastery and control over your body which improves self-confidence.”

At a more basic level, being physically active is also just a good distraction. Focusing on the movement of your body and the physical task at hand can give you a sense of calmness, clarity, and optimism. This can be similar to meditation or mindfulness-based practices which are often recommended for those experiencing anxiety and depression.

“In addition, physical activity improves your mood and this is immediately afterward and will be sustained if the activity becomes a regular habit," Dr Gamberg says.

“Life can be stressful and we need to find effective ways to deal with it so that we can be well, stay well, and live our happiest lives."

For more information on how to start exercising to improve your mental health visit beyondblue.

If you need urgent help with a stress disorder or a mental health crisis contact Lifeline 131 114 or lifeline.org.au, beyondblue 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au.

For more information visit HealthShare, a digital company dedicated to improving the health of regional Australians. Or you can find a specialist near you using the health tool below.

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