Stress is an unavoidable part of our everyday life. From morning to evening, from home to work we are always stressed about something or the other. Often times people complain that despite  a good night sleep and good diet they feel too tired all the time. Exercise is one of the best ways to manage your stress. Any form of exercise from simple walking to Tai chi can act as a stress reliever. Exercising in the right amount helps to keep our body and mind healthy, it can do a lot to your overall energy and well being.


What happens to your body when you exercise?

Muscles need more oxygen while working out and this increased demand for oxygen will make your breathing deeper and faster and your heart rate will increase to pump more blood to your muscles. This means your heart muscles get stronger and better at pumping blood throughout your body the more you exercise as part of your healthy lifestyle. When the cardiac system is fit it reduces your resting heart rate and your blood pressure becomes more controlled.

The increased blood flow helps the brain to function better, so you feel more focused and fresh after a proper workout contrary to feeling tired after a workout as many of us believe. Regular exercise will promote growth of new brain cells which will help to boost memory and learning.

Exercise is also a great way to prevent and manage depression because it improves the function and production of neurotransmitters like endorphins, serotonin, dopamine etc will help increase the feelings of well being. Endorphins are proven to minimize physical pain and discomfort, they are natural pain killers that your body can produce. They also give a feeling of euphoria and improve sleep, which in turn helps in reducing stress.

Exercise helps to load your bones which in turn helps with maintaining healthy bone mass as you get older. The bone thinning disease or Osteoporosis will benefit a lot from weight bearing exercise like walking.


What is the best exercise?

The best exercise for you is to do what you love doing. It can be dancing, walking, jogging, yoga or badminton……Any form of physical movement can improve your fitness and reduce stress.

Whatever you may choose do, the best thing for you is to build up slowly, know your body’s limits and work up from there. Oftentimes people get excited about the new plan and end up overdoing and hurting themselves. This can result in a major break in your fitness program.

The other thing that can happen is that your brain can associate pain with exercises. This can lead to a fear of exercise. If you have not exercised in a long time it is a good idea to talk to your family doctor and other healthcare providers about how to start your fitness routine and when.

When you start exercising it will be nice to have a logbook to write what you did, how much, also how did you feel after doing it. This will help in you analyzing your progress and to make any changes/progressions that is needed.

Starting an exercise program is easy; the difficult part is sticking to it. That is where ‘doing what you like’ is important. Studies show that yoga is excellent for health and fitness, but if it is not something that you like there is a high probability that you will stop doing it soon as it is not mentally satisfying or motivating to you.

Some people like to exercise with friends, if that is you, then look for a friend to come with you.

Going to the gym is a good way to exercise for many people and perhaps paying a monthly fee might force you to be committed to the routine, a friend is also great for accountability to stick with the routine.

If the gym is not for you, there are exercises you can do at home. A workout CD at home might be very convenient for many people, as you can do this at the comfort of your house. You are also saving money and the time to get ready and drive to the gym. Walk away the pounds by Leslie Hanson is a walking workout program CD that I like. It is a low impact workout that is excellent for beginners.


How much should I exercise?

Reading your body signs is very important, stay within your body’s limit and slowly progress to minimize risk of injury. Be mindful and positive when your exercise.  If you were leading a sedentary life and would want to start an active routine you can even start with some stretches and 10 minutes of free walking.

Do not compare yourself to another person and try to catch up to their pace in the beginning, instead let your body gradually get to the level. So let us leave the answer to the question “How much should I exercise?” to you and your body, let your body decide where to start and how to progress.

Setting a goal will help you to reach to your desired level quicker and easier. No matter how big or small your goal is, setting a SMART goal helps.

  • Specific (S)
  • Measurable (M)
  • Attainable (A)
  • Relevant (R)
  • Time bound (T)

Your goal should be simple and easy to understand. Make it easy to measure so you can see the progress, such as amount of time or the number of exercises. For example, walking 10 minutes in the first week to 30 minutes by sixth week.

The goal that you set for yourself should be attainable, aiming for the moon is good but may be too much for your body, at the same time too simple goals may not motivate you enough.  Make sure the goals that you set is very relevant to stage that you’re in your life and your physical ability. Set a time limit, deadlines are helpful for maintaining motivation.

When should I exercise?

Another question that people have is when should I exercise or how many days should I exercise? Personally I love to exercise early in the morning. It gives me a boost of energy for the whole day, but there is no research that has proved that exercising a particular time of the day would help in losing more calories than the other. It all depends on if you are a night owl or an early bird. So I would say choose a time that is convenient for you and you can stick with it. This will help you make exercise a part of your routine easily.

Now that you have the basic idea on why you should exercise and what exercise is best for you, go ahead set your SMART goals, decide how much you want to start with and you are all good to start with “be more active” resolution for year 2019.  Hopefully the SMART goals will help you stay strong with your new decision to exercise this year. I wish you all a fresher, happier and healthier year ahead!!!!

BY: Ann Many Pulprakkuzihiyil, Registered Physiotherapist

Exercise and Stress