With the rigours of work and home life hard to ignore, it can be easy to become stressed. This is a serious issue, as it affects our physical and mental wellbeing and, if left unattended over time, can develop into more serious issues.
“Stress is becoming more of a common presentation in our daily lives,” says Danni Zhang from New Vision Psychology. “Social media has probably exacerbated the way we feel about ourselves and financial pressures continue to be a common theme with patients.”
One of the best ways to combat mental stress is through physical stress; the one put on your body yourself. By exercising, combined with an effective diet plan, you can help alleviate the psychological distress your body has been under.
Firstly, it’s important to understand what happens to your body when stress – regardless of whether it’s physical or mental – takes hold.
When you’re stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. In large amounts, this can be dangerous; leading to potentially high blood pressure and heart attacks.
So how can regular exercise help combat the telltale signs of stress?
Cortisol in small amounts can be beneficial, as it’s been shown that exercising also leads to the release of this hormone. This helps produce high cardiovascular function, an enhanced immune system and an improved metabolism.
The best way to combat these stresses is to exercise, thus raising the levels of cortisol, before providing yourself with the right nutritional foods and supplements to lower it back down again.
Even a simple jog can help put you on the right track towards releasing healthy amounts of the hormone, as well as enhancing positive physical and mental effects on the brain and body.
Patrick, a physiotherapist from Bend + Mend, advises that doing any physical activity is better than none. For example, choosing to go for a walk during your lunch break is a great way to get started, rather than trying to attempt a 5km run.
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is seen as the most effective cardio-based workout to help gain healthy levels of cortisol. Ensure you have solid rest afterwards to help the cortisol decrease (2-3 times per week). The best thing about many high intensity interval training routines is that you can do them anywhere without any special equipment.
If you’re looking to gain some muscle, weight training is another solid way to increase positive levels of cortisol in the body. The key to weight training is balance. That is, scheduling exercises that focus on different muscle groups. For example, do dumbbell overhead tricep extensions on one day and on another, do single-leg squats as these are different muscle groups.
Once again, make sure to plan proper rests with your training, as overexertion with little time to rest may cause the levels of stress to reach dangerous amounts.
Similarly, look after what you’re putting into your body by following a balanced diet. For example, LUXE Fitness offers an eight week workout and meal plan.
One of the other major proven long-term reducers of stress, surprisingly, is sleep. Up to 45 percent of Australians experience poor sleeping patterns. Though not strictly a physical activity, by planning regular sleeping patterns, getting the correct amount of sleep and limiting caffeine, you can help your body reduce unnecessary stress.
“Remember to start slow, especially if regular exercise hasn’t been in our routine for quite some time.” reminds Patrick. “Setting unrealistic goals and injuring yourself will only aggravate our stress.”