How Can Exercise Build Resilience to Stress?
Would you invest in an insurance policy against stress? Well, here's a relatively inexpensive option: a regular program of moderate exercise. Conditioning the physical systems builds protection against the effects of emotional as well as physical stress. Let's look at how three health-related components of physical fitness - aerobic exercise, strength training and stretching – can help. Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist and aerobic exercise strengthens the heart so that it becomes more efficient, pumping more blood with fewer beats. That's why as you become conditioned your heart rate does not rise as high and returns to normal faster after physical stress. There is a transfer of benefits to emotional stress since a stronger heart is also better able to weather emotional storms in the same way.
Strengthening the muscles allows you to perform your daily activities with greater ease and to handle unexpected demands, like climbing up 17 flights of steps during a NYC black out. Being strong gives you a sense of empowerment – you can be more independent and self-reliant. You can carry your grocery bags, hoist your carry-on into the overhead bin or lift a case of baby formula into the trunk of your car. You are more resilient to injury and less likely to suffer poor posture and back pain (the #1 medical complaint in the US).
Stretching also has a beneficial effect on posture as it discharges tension from the muscles and keeps freedom of movement in the joints. An emotional response such as anxiety or fear typically causes muscular tension - think of what makes you personally "stiffen up". Chronic muscular tension can lead to back pain and headaches, but regular stretching can help relieve this.
Being fit a preventative to stress. All three components of a well-rounded fitness program play a role in improving your personal heartiness - aerobic exercise to condition the heart and lungs; strength training and stretching to keep your muscles, bones and joints healthy. As a bonus of being fit, you also fortify your body's response to negative stress.