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1. Get to Know the Benefits of Exercise

You’ve heard exercise is good for you. But what does it do, exactly, and how can it help relieve stress? Here are some of the benefits of moderate exercise:

“Exercise helps the mind to feel more in control and able to manage stress.”

• Stronger muscles

• Better flexibility

• Increased heart and lung efficiency

• Decreased risk of developing heart disease

• Decreased risk of developing lung disease

• Improved overall circulation

• Reduced cholesterol levels

• Reduced blood pressure

• Strengthened immune system

• Decrease in excess body fat

• Increased energy

• Decreased symptoms of depression

• Decreased symptoms of arthritis

• Decreased risk of diabetes and decreased risk of complications from diabetes

• Decreased risk of osteoporosis and decreased risk of complications from osteoporosis

• Improved quality of sleep and decreased insomnia

• Increased mental acuity

• Improved posture

• Improved self-image

• Decreased frequency of injuries in daily life

• Decreased effects of stress

• Improved ability to manage stress

Not only does exercise help the body to deal with the physical effects of stress, but it helps the mind to feel more in control and able to manage stress. Add to that the positive effect exercise has on so many other disorders and its ability to help prevent many physical problems, and you’ve got a stress management tool that is both preventive and proactive.

2. Make the Fight-or-Flight-Response Work for You

Moderate exercise may be the single most effective way to get stress under control. You’ve learned how stress evokes the fight-or-flight reaction by releasing stress hormones into the body designed to give us sudden, quick reactions, extra strength, and endurance. When we don’t respond to the stress response by moving quickly, using our strength, or taking advantage of the added endurance, our bodies are all geared up with no outlet for that energy. Muscles stay tense. Blood pressure stays high. Breathing stays shallow. Cortisol and adrenaline course through the body causing all kinds of problems when the body doesn’t react the way it is being programmed to react.

3. What Exercise Means to the Stress Response

Exercise changes the picture, accomplishing two important things in the wake of the stress response:

• Exercise allows the body to expend energy so that while your brisk walk around the block may not actually be “fight or flight,” to the body the message is the same. That extra energy available to your body is being used, signaling the body that it can, after exercise, return to equilibrium.

• Exercise releases chemicals like beta endorphins that specifically counteract the effects of stress hormones, alerting the body that the danger has passed and the relaxation response can begin.

In other words, exercise makes the obsolete fight-or-flight stress response relevant again. It lets your body respond the way it is trying to respond.

4. Get Motivated

As you probably know, making yourself get up and exercise is the tricky part.

For some people, exercise is already a good habit, or a priority to keep energy high and weight under control. For others, exercising is akin to having a root canal. Most of us are probably somewhere in between. We know exercise is good for us and we do it . . . occasionally—when the mood strikes or time permits.

The trouble is, exercising in fits and starts isn’t enough to accomplish long-term stress management or a decreased risk of developing chronic illness.

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