Physical activity is a stressor in itself. By definition, it stresses the body. By building up adaptation to physical activity, you can increase your adaptation and resistance to other stressors. Exercise is an effective way to reduce the negative aspects of stress. Exercise can be an effective stress management tool in six primary ways:
- Exercise can serve as a release. It can release tension and anxiety and, in many respects, can substitute for the fight-or-flight mechanism.
- Exercise can be a method of relaxation. Regular exercise can be a diversion from day-to-day stress and can provide a sedative effect through natural physical movement.
- Exercise can increase energy and fatigue tolerance. A major effect of stress over time is that it uses up energy and leads to fatigue. By maintaining your energy, you heighten your tolerance for stress.
- Exercise can aid in maintaining muscle elasticity and minimize the muscle-shortening effect of inactivity.
- Exercise can increase physiological control. By following a regular exercise program, you can gain control over your body. That “tones” up the body’s stress reaction (adrenal glands) by helping to normalize heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension.
- Exercising on a regular basis increases emotional well-being. Studies have shown that self-esteem and self-confidence are increased and that officers with high self-esteem have fewer stress-related problems. Fit individuals who exercise regularly appear more relaxed and less anxious and depressed. Active individuals report less stress in their lives. One study found that exercise was significantly more effective than tranquilizers for reducing anxiety associated with prolonged stress.
Perhaps one of the most interesting effects of exercise is that it alters the perception of stress. We have implemented fitness programs as stress management programs where the causes of stress did not change but the perception of it decreased.