THE BLOG
10/31/2011 11:21 am ET Updated Dec 31, 2011

Stressed Out? Work Out!

It does a body good, not to mention the mind. A consistent exercise program contributes huge benefits to stress management. Unfortunately, more than ever, we face a barrage of stressors every day. Whether it be tough financial times, a demanding schedule, or an uncertain job status, stress and pressure come in all forms and can often wreak havoc on your life and peace of mind. And since we have little or no control over these stressors, it's important to control what we actually can -- the way we manage our stress. Exercise is key -- and I believe it is the best way to stave off stress, stay healthy and clear your mind.

Unfortunately, when the going gets tough, a lot of us don't get going. Our first impulse is to indulge in something that may feel good at first, but ends up working against us, such as aimless TV or web surfing, mindless junk food eating, or alcohol consumption. These short-term fixes can add up to guilt, depression and way too many calories. Now can we say "stress"?

Besides improving your appearance, exercise improves your overall health and your sense of well-being, which gives you a sense of control over your body and your life.

Here are some stress-slashing benefits of exercise:

  • Good in, bad out: Exercise can decrease your body's stress hormones, including cortisol, a culprit in so many health issues when found at increased levels. Physical activity also helps to pump up the production of your brain's "natural high" neurotransmitters, known as endorphins. These help you go from crazed to cool in a few minutes.
  • Diversion: Exercise can take your mind off of your problems and redirect it on the activity at hand or put you into a zen-like state. Exercise typically offers you a change of scenery, sometimes taking you to a fitness studio, a park, or a scenic beach -- all of which are low-stress places.
  • It's all about you! How often do you get the chance to dedicate time just to yourself? Between the demands you face at home, and putting out fires at work, you're constantly doing for others. Replenish through exercise -- take an hour just for yourself and bask in the glory that you are the one benefiting, even if it's for just a short time.
  • It's therapy on the go. After a power walk or an indoor cycling class, you'll often find that you've forgotten the day's frustrations and focused solely on your body. As you start to habitually release your daily tensions by physical activity, you may find peace of mind in everything you do.
  • Better nights: We've all lost sleep over a stressful event. But when this becomes frequent or chronic, you can kiss goodbye productive and happy days. Sleep deprivation leads to a run-down immune system, depression, and anxiety. Regular exercise can improve your sleep, making you more alert and energized.

Whatever it is that keeps you up at night, exercise is a great coping mechanism. While it can't eliminate the stressors we encounter, it gives us the tools to manage stress. So if you're just starting a healthy lifestyle for the first time, or for the first time in years, be sure to put the right habits in motion.

Dos

  • Keep it real -- stay within your limits.
  • Exercise anywhere and everywhere.
  • Get outdoors to exercise, or away from the cause of your stress.

Don'ts

  • Don't try to run a marathon if you've never run a mile.
  • Don't make excuses about not having the time or place to work out. Use what you have and make it work!
  • If possible, make your workout venue a positive environment. Don't exercise at home if that's the cause or scene of your stress.

Since I've made exercise a focal point in my life, I can attest to having better mental clarity. My commitment to exercise and health has also introduced me to so many people whose lives (and not just appearances) have changed for the better. My clients at Flywheel Sports have told me that exercise is an important part of their lives because of all the benefits, physical and mental. So my advice to everyone: Stay healthy, break a sweat and stay cool.