Exercise and stress reduction

by Jerry Vance

Stressful times come at Christmas; at least that's what I thought until now. Graduations in our families can push the stress levels over the top.

Stress is a part of life. It can be real, or it can be imagined. If it is good stress, the kind that has a happy ending, your body handles it with a relaxing response. If it is the bad kind of stress, your relaxing response never quite makes it.

Regular exercise patterns are extremely helpful in removing either type of stress. Some of the psychosocial benefits of fitness for all ages are:

1. A feeling of general well-being following exercise. Endorphins, morphine-like hormones, are released by the brain giving an overall feeling of well-being. And, for most fitness students, it is the main reason they exercise. Jogging can be as effective as taking a tranquilizer or going through a progressive relaxation technique. It can greatly reduce muscular tension. General well-being is closely related to the way you think of yourself and whether you have that "self" in control.

2. Improved self control and self confidence and improved body image. You will improve your personal appearance through reducing your body fat and muscle definition. Exercise increases your stamina and resistance to fatigue. Sleep will come easier and be deeper and more satisfying.

3. Withstanding the need to smoke, drink and overeat. Your productivity on the job will increase and absentee rate will drop.

4. The aging factor. The stress of aging is considerably reduced with the addition of even small amounts of exercise. You will have a more youthful appearance and more strength, vigor and flexibility.

5. Social contacts. When you work out with others, you will find that they have problems in their lives, too. Maybe you can help them with a kind word or a helpful gesture. Maybe they can reciprocate. A touch for someone who is down, a joke and a tease can bring down stress levels quickly. Switching the mind to laughter relieves the mind and relaxes tense muscles.

Keep in mind that when you are physically fit, you handle your stress better. Your heart is ready for the sudden bursts of adrenaline and can take the bounce. Your body rhythm will slow back to normal quicker and leave you with an in-control feeling.

I teach my students the "six breaths" method of relaxing and slowing down the pulse. Breathe in slow to eight counts, and out with at least eight counts.

Stress is a part of daily living. How you handle it designates your enjoyment of life.

And graduations happen only so often, so you have time to recover before the next one.

Jerry Vance is owner of The Sweat Shop/Wet Sweat. She offers classes through Carson City Recreation and Aquatics Center and is a fitness instructor for the Senior Center.


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