Feeling anxious? Everyone responds to stress in different ways, but we all have one thing in common: Regular exercise reduces the harmful effects of stress.
Road rage, sleeping too much or too little, bingeing on TV or comfort foods, drinking more alcohol than usual, procrastinating, or chewing your fingernails down to the nub. Any of these sound familiar?
Stress affects each of us in different ways. You may have physical signs (such as headaches, tense or sore muscles, or trouble sleeping), emotional signs (such as feeling anxious or depressed), or both. Healthy habits, including regular physical activity such as walking, can help reduce or prevent some of the harmful effects of stress.
Stress sets off a chain of events. The body reacts to it by releasing a hormone, adrenaline, that temporarily causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise. These physical reactions prepare you to deal with the situation by confronting it or by running away from it — the "fight or flight" response. When stress is constant (chronic), your body remains in high gear off and on for days or weeks at a time.
Chronic stress can take a physical toll on you. It can weaken your immune system and cause uncomfortable physical symptoms like headache and stomach problems.
Does chronic stress cause high blood pressure or heart disease?
The link between stress and cardiovascular disease is not clear, but it can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices that are associated with high blood pressure and heart disease. While the exact causes of high blood pressure are unknown, contributing factors include being overweight, eating too much sodium (salt), lack of physical activity and drinking too much alcohol.
How can being more active help?
Regular physical activity can improve quality of life and relieve stress, tension, anxiety and depression. You may notice a "feel good” sensation immediately following your workout and also see an improvement in overall well-being over time as physical activity becomes a regular part of your life.
Physical activity can:
- release stress and calm you
- improve your mood and help you think clearly
- keep your mind off cigarettes if you’re trying to quit
- help control your appetite
- help you lose weight if you’re overweight, or stay at a healthy weight
- give you more energy and stamina
- lower your blood pressure
- increase your “good” HDL cholesterol level
- reduce your risk of developing heart disease and stroke
- help control blood sugar by improving how your body uses insulin
- improve your quality of sleep
- help you feel better about how you look