Dr Joanne Stuart
Exercise and Stress
The benefits of exercise on stress and how to get yourself exercising.
The evidence on the link between exercise and improved mood, concentration, health and wellbeing is strong, clear and consistent. Amongst the most common findings cited are that:
· Exercise increases bodies production of endorphins
· Exercise clears the mind of repetitive thoughts and worries
· Exercise raises your mood
· Exercises improves the quality of your sleep
The mechanism for these effects are thought to be multiple. For example exercise is thought to act by increasing the neurotransmitter serotonin (acted on by antidepressants). It increases the growth of neurons thereby influences adaptive brain functioning. It regulates sleep which acts to support and facilitate many health giving processes.
In psychological terms exercises provides a productive, effective activity which is often lacking in other environments. It facilitates social engagement and structures free time.
Finally there is evidence that exercises boosts the brains ability to deal with stress and heightened emotions.
Since exercise is so effective why is it that it is so difficult to stick with? One reason may be that there are so many pulls on our time and attention. We are motivated to exercise but our concentration and attention is often pulled in other directions.
How to motivate yourself to exercise:
An effective way to think about motivation is as something which is multiple. Think of yourself as having lots of motivations rather than having one pot of motivation which runs to empty by the end (or even the middle) of the day.
You might be motivated to go to the gym but also motivated to watch the television. Motivated to eat dinner but also motivated to look online for a new car.
Now one way to use this conception of motivation is to ensure the behaviour you would like to increase becomes the behaviour you are most reminded about. So if you were to see your trainers in the hallway as you get home you would be more likely to be motivated to go to the gym then if you were to enter the sitting room and see the tv.
Another effective strategy arising from this way of seeing motivation is to link a big motivator (catching up on an audiobook) with something less motivating (going for a run). The important thing is to limit listening to an audiobook to the gym so that you have to go to find out what happened next….
Routine is your friend. If Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday all become associated with some form of exercise then you are reminded of your intention and other activities are less likely to pop into your schedule and sideline exercise.
If you’re motivated by socialising aim for a sport which will allow this such as tennis, squash or badminton. Arrange to exercise with a friend.
Don’t be overambitious. Aim for small regular doses rather than overdoing it less often.
If you are new to exercise go for low impact exercise initially. High impact exercise, which causes discomfort, is linked to exercise drop out when you begin exercising.
There are some great online exercises classes available. Combine these online exercises classes with going to the gym to help you stay interested.
Don’t forget walking. Walking to work once a week can be recuperative and strengthening and allows you to step off the treadmill of the commute.
Finally for a doubly effective boost to your mood and mental strength exercise outside. Mountain biking, open air football, jogging on the Heath all provide dual benefits.
See for example Weir (2011) The Exercise Effect. The American Psychological Association, 42 (11), p48.