Stress & Exercise

Many people think stress is just something external, the result of the trials and tribulations of life.

But whether a stressor is a minor change in your daily schedule or a life threatening event, it is actually the brain that determines when the body's internal equilibrium is disturbed. The external stressors in life, combined with disturbance in the brain's delicate biochemical balance, can actually make any internal pain we feel seem even worse, which has a significant impact on how we deal with external stressors.

And while aging and genetics cannot be altered, being weak and sick in your old age can be prevented. A lack of exercise, too much alcohol and a bad diet, together with stress, multiplies the damage on the body and brain.

Simply put, exercise is the number one antidote to fight stress, anxiety and depression.

First, exercise has a positive ripple effect on the body, brain and mind. Exercise improves the functions of everything, from your cardiovascular system, to your immune system, circular system, digestive system, muscular system, and skeletal system. Exercise does this, in part, by alleviating the physical and emotional feelings of stress. But it also works at a cellular level. When you exercise, your brain and body make molecular by-products that can end up damaging your cells. That is actually a good thing, because the repair mechanisms needed to fix those cells leave them hardier and in better shape for the future.

Think of it this way: Just like muscle cells, as brain cells get broken down and built up, they become more resilient. Exercise not only makes you feel great physically, it also helps your brain and mind deal better with stress, sparking brain growth and strengthening the connections between existing neurons.

Exercise not only makes you look and think better, it also gives you stronger bones and muscle. Exercise creates stronger connection between your brain cells and countless studies have shown that exercise helps grow additional brain cells in the hippocampus. That is an important area of the brain; it is where memory is stored and teaches you how to learn.

Now compare all of these positive impacts to the negative effects that stress has, particularly on your brain. Chronic stress deactivates the temporoparietal junction (TMJ) area of your brain, which is responsible for allowing us to communicate with others and awareness of their feelings and ideas.

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At the same time, stress also activates the fight-or-flight response. Repeatedly feeling the fight-or-flight response, together with a deactivation of the TMJ, leads to severe stress, sometimes resulting in panic attacks or depression.

Think of it this way: When you are under emotional stress, your brain has the same response as a prey animal trying to escape from a predator. While exercise can’t change your external environment, it will help balance your delicate internal biochemical responses.

Feeling great on the inside has a direct effect on how you perceive your external environment and triggers what I like to call the Stable Emotional Response, or SER.

Stress can have a dangerous effect on your brain and body when it leads to atherosclerosis, a disease that occurs when plaque builds up in your arteries. This happens due to the fibrinogen protein, which works to speed up blood clotting to reduce the loss of blood, and repair skin and other parts of the body when needed. But immediately after you experience stress, your fibrinogen levels can increase two-to-twenty fold to respond to any injury your body may experience.

But if there is not actual physical damage to the body, fibrinogen starts to accumulate in the major arteries of the body and brain. Over time, this can cause heart attacks and stroke.

In a similar process, the brain also releases natural pain-killers, like endorphins, during stressful events in order to mask any injuries. Again, the brain has no idea if you are fighting for your life or simply late for an important business meeting. Stress also reduces oxygen and blood flow to frontal cortex region of the brain, which eventually hinders the cognitive ability of the brain.

Stress comes in several shapes and sizes. It can be acute or chronic; it can be the result of finances, work, physical problems, or metabolic issues, just to name a few. No matter where your level of stress fits in, stress has a direct effect on your body, brain and overall health. The damage that stress causes to overall health is greater than the feeling one gets on a daily basis. Stress also accelerates aging, producing wrinkles and grey hair, by damaging nearly all the body’s internal organs. Moreover stress deteriorates brain cell and connection between brain cells (synapse).

The internal and external affect of stress on the body and brain is immense. Many people are superficially aware of how stress makes them feel, while they attribute aging simply to genetics. But thanks to my 25 years in fitness and wellness industry, I know that 60-80% of how you look and feel is solely depends on how YOU take care of yourself. Exercise is the best method to reduce, and possibly eliminate, the effect of stress on the body and brain. And that comes without any negative side effects.

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