The Stress Effect and Exercise
By Don Otis –
Who doesn’t feel some stress in life today? We struggle with unemployment, fear of terrorism, how to pay our mortgage, a bad relationship, or just the day-to-day pressure to get it all done. If we add ill health or fatigue to this list, any of us would be overwhelmed.A 45-year old woman with three teenagers, a difficult marriage and financial struggles told me she deals with stress by eating or shopping. As you might imagine, she is 75 pounds overweight and unhealthy. She has found a self-destructive way of dealing with her stress. Over time, her weight will take its toll on her hips, knees, joints, and cardiovascular system, not to mention her self-esteem.
Stress is a normal part of life, but prolonged stress weakens our immune system. The side effects are fatigue, sleeplessness, mental confusion, a greater tendency to get colds and flu, loss of libido, and poor physical performance.
We deal with stress in our own ways. Some of us eat, shop, drink, sleep, exercise, or take it to the Lord in prayer. You can be certain that our Savior knows our fears. How many times does He say, “Fear not”? He understands our pain, our hardships, and our fears. These fears lead to stress if we give place to them. In Philippians 4:6, the Apostle Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God.”
We can be consumed by our circumstances or those things in life we cannot control. Yet we have more control than we believe. We can take charge of our emotional life by controlling what we dwell on. Does it help to lie in bed at night and worry? This only leads to insomnia and perpetuates our psychosomatic responses. Second, we can control our spiritual life by taking our problems to God in prayer and petition, trusting that He is in control even if we are not. Third, we can control our physical life by remaining active and eating in a healthy way.
I have been through seasons of stress in my life. I am in one right now. My way of coping is to workout hard. Rather than internalize the stress and become depressed, I run, or hike, or do something that I know is good for me physically. Sometimes I will leave the house and say, “I have to go sweat for a while.”
Exercise releases endorphins, a hormone-like substance produced in the brain. Any type of exercise (including sex) releases these natural feel-good painkillers. One of the many benefits of exercise is that it strengthens the immune system. While stress pulls us down, exercise serves as a counter-balance. But it may be the last thing we feel like doing.
When you are under a load of stress, get outside and exercise! Do something healthy. Control your mind and thoughts. By so doing you reduce the amount of adrenaline that is released into your system. While adrenaline is necessary for emergencies, the fight- or-flight-effect it produces is toxic to our bodies over the long haul.
In this world, Christ promises that we will have many troubles. God has given us ways to reduce the stress and find physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Use the tools that God has given you to regain control over your life and circumstances.
Don S. Otis (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an ACE Certified personal trainer, the author of Keeping Fit after 40, and the president of Veritas Communications, a Christian publicity agency. © 2010