Thoughts from the Chair...Stay on Course with your Exercise Plan to Reduce and Manage Stress
We all have some level of stress that affects us each and every day. Even if your only concern was what beach to go to in order to throw a blanket down and relax, you might have just a bit of stress when it comes to making that decision. So even the proverbial day at the beach can come with a little anxiety attached.
While we all find ourselves in stressful situations, however, individual people deal with it in their own way. What's stressful to one person may not even register on the stress scale for another, and the difference appears to be how different people perceive the same event. Part of this perception, according to mental health professionals, is related to our basic personality, the whole "Type A personality" or "Type B personality" designation.
Studies also show that men and women handle stress differently, a distinction that is based in large part on hormones. In addition, there is a considerable body of research indicating that the less control we have over a situation – the less empowered we feel – whether at work or in our personal lives, the more likely we are to feel stressed.
Fortunately, whatever personality traits you have or however you perceive potentially stressful situations, there are some useful techniques to manage stress including avoiding the stressor (not always possible of course), deep breathing and relaxation exercises, meditation, diet modification and physical exercise. Each of us will respond differently to these techniques, and through trial and error, we must determine how to best utilize one or a combination of them.
In an article I wrote for the My Healthy Lifestyle newsletter in July 2012, I discussed the importance of a good night's sleep – or a good day's sleep if you happen to be working nights.
Sleep is one of our body's best defenses against chronic and relenting stress. As we sleep our body is recovering from our hectic day and preparing us for the day that lies ahead. The link between sleep and stress is strong and direct, and a lack of sleep affects the body in a similar way that excess stress does. Chronic stress and sleep deprivation are a powerful and negative force that can lead to increased risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, allergies, obesity and depression.
Interestingly enough, people who exercise regularly generally sleep better and, consequently, handle stress much more effectively. And that gets us to my seemingly never ending – but always important – recommendation of a daily exercise routine.
It begins simply by getting in the habit by either starting or continuing your fitness journey. The key is not how much you do, but just the fact that you are moving each and every day. In all cases, consistency trumps intensity, so make sure you stay the course. Try to get a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise every day. Many people can accomplish that goal by taking a walk at lunch or by getting up 30min earlier to start your day with exercise. Again, the most important thing is to keep at it.
After two to three weeks of regular exercise there's a good chance that your habit will be formed, and then there will be no stopping you. Life will seem easier because you are raising your immunity to illness, and lowering the inflammatory responses in your body to daily stresses. You will start to slowly lose weight and feel better about yourself, and you will most likely notice that life seems less stressful and your mood is more upbeat. It all begins with exercise and ends with a great night's sleep which, of course, should be followed by some exercise. In the meantime, stay healthy and be sure to read the related article on The Medical Fitness Difference in this month's issue of your online newsletter.
Chair – My Healthy Lifestyle Employee Wellness Committee
(Editor's Note: In addition to serving as Chair for the Employee Wellness Committee, Daniel Ballin is the Administrator of Riverside's Therapy Group, Wellness and Outpatient Services and oversees all of Riverside's therapy services along with Riverside's Wellness and Fitness Centers in Newport News and Gloucester.)
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