Today’s humans live predominantly sedentary lives. Despite this, we still experience “fight-or-flight” responses to stressful situations. Previously, this anxiety helped keep our species alive for thousands of years. Our ancestors would literally flee or fight whatever threat presented itself. This response got our hearts beating, pushing blood through our arteries and veins, and letting go of the stress hormones instead of letting them build up in our system.
We are generally in less danger day-to-day than our ancestors. Fighting or fleeing a stressful situation is typically not a necessary response. However, because the “fight-or-flight” response is still hardwired into our reactions, we experience this regardless of how big, small, real, or perceived the danger. This leads to our minds overreacting to smaller stressors with the same panicked response, as if our lives were truly endangered.
Chronic low-level stress contributes to health problems that lead to heart attacks, strokes, or weight gain, to name a few. A natural method to take control of the situation is to exercise.
Exercise has been proven to be as effective as antidepressants in depression and to helps minimize anxiety. When you exercise, your heart beats faster and your blood vessels are cleaned out. Additionally, stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine are released. Endorphins are received in the brain, which act as natural painkillers and produce euphoria similar to the effect of opioids. Altogether, this can lead to better sleep and a reduction of stress. Other benefits of exercise include increasing feelings of happiness, increasing self-confidence, and overall health and life longevity.
Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem (source: Anxiety and Depression Association of America).
While it’s possible to see immediate relief, it's recommended to continue a consistent routine for at least 10 to 12 weeks to have the most long-lasting effects.
Children and adolescents (ages 6 - 17): 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity a day (including aerobic activity, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening)
Adults and Older Adults: per week, for substantial health benefits: 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (2 hours and 30 minutes a week), 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity
On top of physical activity helping combat stress hormones building up in your body, exercise is beneficial in strengthening your heart and lowering your risk of developing obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure (to name a few). Getting up and moving throughout the day can also help lower your risk of getting deep venous thrombosis from sitting too long.
It’s always recommended to speak to your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen to ensure that it’s safe for you. Your doctor will consider any medications you’re on and any other health conditions you may have. Together you can determine the right amount and types of exercise that is best for you.