Let’s talk about stress.
Whether it’s stress regarding an upcoming exam or overwhelm due to life in general, it’s safe to say that the next generation has more stress than ever before. Society tends to emphasize the importance of a “doing” and a “go-go-go” attitude, which can cause varying degrees of pressure on a young person’s psyche.
However, there’s tons of research supporting regular exercise for lowering stress. In fact, I’ve seen many gyms incorporate youth orientation programs to get individuals started early in life when it comes to developing a regular exercise routine (which is so great!). This also leads to the likelihood of gym memberships down the line. But how exactly does regular fitness reduce stress levels? Let’s take a closer look.
Most of us know that exercise releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins are powerful! They can actually block the nerve signals associated with pain, which may lower overall perceived stress. They also tend to promote feelings of calm and happiness, which is why we often feel better after a solid workout.
This is why it’s recommended to “take a walk” when you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed. Even a quick and brisk walk around the block can help your body pump out those endorphins, helping you cope better and come back to the task at hand with a better mindset.
Moving your body also actively lowers cortisol, the stress hormone. Interestingly, intense exercise can actually, at first, increase the stress hormones but then quickly lowers them soon after the workout. After a brisk walk, as well, the stress hormones are reduced afterward.
Yet, other forms of exercise, like yoga and Pilates, can actually reduce the stress hormone during the activity. This is primarily because we focus on controlled and deep breathing, which dampens the stress response.
On top of the physiological aspects regarding how exercise reduces stress, moving your body can also take your mind off of any worries or fears. For instance, yoga is a very mindful practice (as should any form of exercise be!). This means that it’s hard to focus on anything else when you’re trying to pay attention to where your body is in space, as well as moving with your breath.
The same goes for any intense activity. It’s tricky to focus on anything else when you’re trying to perform 10 or so burpees. It’s also encouraged, during weightlifting or strength training, to actually focus on the muscle you’re contracting, as this can activate more muscle fibers during the movement itself.
So, the takeaway here? Everyone should be performing regular exercise. In fact, when we’re in good shape, the body is more resilient to stress as there is less inflammation interfering with our body’s regular processes.
In young adults, exercise should be encouraged so that they can develop resilience and healthy coping mechanisms that will last a lifetime.