A Simple Stress Fix that Flattens Abs Too

A Simple Stress Fix that Flattens Abs Too

Posted on 26. Sep, 2010 by in Uncategorized

Photo by Mike Hoff

I started lifting weights because I knew that it will help me get stronger bones. As a woman, Osteoporosis is a big concern for me. I started working out because I wanted to lose the belly bulge. But, recently, I found out that there are lasting benefits to keeping our bodies moving when it comes to reducing stress.

First, let’s define what stress is and what it does to our bodies. Stress is basically the response we get when faced with overwhelming situations like work deadlines, money problems, relationship issues, etc. When we get into these and similar situations, our bodies respond by increasing the production of the hormone, cortisol, as a part of our fight or flight response. Normally, when the stress causing situation goes away, our bodies return to normal. But, the kind of stress we experience these days are usuall ongoing which keeps our Cortisol levels up for days.

What Stress is and What Cortisol Does to Us

When we have elevated Cortisol, we tend to store more fat in our abdominal area. I believe there was a drug that was being advertised on T.V. that was supposed to control Cortisol. Anyway, apart from that side effect that none of us really want, stress also causes us to develop unhealthy eating habits. I definitely recognize the times when I reach for something sweet or when I feel like “indulging” myself when I encounter stressful situations. Additionally, stress is also associated with some of the most common chronic diseases known to man.

Looking at Some Facts and Figures

Note: I got these figures from an article in Fitness Magazine.

  • 75% of people in the United States feel stressed out
  • Almost half of us eat unhealthfully because of it
  • 47% of us can’t sleep because of stress. I am definitely one of those sometimes.
  • It makes 1 in 3 of us depressed and for 42% of us, it has gotten worse in the last year.

How to Manage Stress and Keep it That Way

Most of us know that taking a few deep breaths during stressful times will help manage stress. But, the hormonal response when we’re stressed can be powerful that we don’t even think about this trick. So far, the latest scientific research reveals that exercise is the best remedy to stress. One study at Princeton put animals on a six-week aerobic conditioning program, then compared their brains with a group that remained sedentary. The scientists found that the brains of the animals who were exercising transformed into a biochemically calm state over time that stayed steady even when they were under stress. On the other hand, the sedentary animals’ brains continued to react strongly to anxiety-inducing situations.

serene_view

[Looking at this Photo by Poonomo might also help with stress reduction]

The better news for me and other women (sorry men) out there is we naturally and hormonally handle stress better compared to men. To even out the playing field, we can all incorporate regular exercise to our lifestyle which changes our brain, so it takes more stress to trigger the fight or flight response (John Ratey, M.D., Harvard Medical School).

Dr. Ratey at the Harvard Medical School says that cardiovascular activity (which I assume exercise in general as well) helps the heart pump more blood to the brain. More blood means more oxygen and more oxygen means better nourished brain cells. The brain cells become more active and boosts the production of a protein called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF fortifys our brain cells which prevents them from breaking when exposed to stress. BDNF actually helps preserve the brain cells we already have and helps make new ones. This is a great benefit in my book. This may even help us prevent Alzheimer’s Disease down the road – just my guess.

All these benefits sound too good to be true so what’s the catch? If our bodies become sedentary again, the brain cells shrink. So, to maintain the effects, you have to keep working out 🙂 The stress fighting power of exercise just gives me more reasons to hit the gym or the road (with my running shoes of course) more often. Besides, exercise makes me feel good and gives me the power to change how I’m feeling if I’m having a not-so great day. I’ve found that finding reasons like these to keep exercising helps keep me on track and fuel me to get my workouts in even on days when I don’t feel like it.

So, the next time you’re debating going to the gym, tell yourself, “I want to increase my stress fighting power today.”

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  • For sure I find going to the gym and doing an intense workout helps stress, so does going for a long run for me personally its not the activity itself but that I take my mind of the stressful event.

    I've learn't what stresses me out is thinking too far into the future you know “what if scenarios” all the time ..and thinking about the past “I should have done this” so my solution I try to only think about now … its hard but I try to practice it.
    Yeah stress is not helpful for trying to build muscles.
    Nice topic on what some say is a “silent killer”
    Raymond

  • Hi Raymond, it's good you pointed out that just the act of running helps

    take our minds off things. Yes, I know what you mean about thinking too far

    ahead in the future. Whenever I get overwhelmed, I do this too. Just think

    of the next day's stuff or even the next hour. It really helps.

    Anna

  • Sometimes I don't want to go to the gym because I am tired or stressed with work but I keep telling myself – I NEED to go BECAUSE I am tired and stressed! After the workout I always feel better and thank myself I went and did my exercises!

  • Hi Grace, I do the same thing! I feel much better after workouts and I

    purposely go on stressful days too 🙂

    Anna

  • Exercising is one of the best ways to manage stress. the other benefit of exercising is that it helps you gain a deep sleep and that will also calm your stress levels and make you feel energized. The only reason doctors dont prescribe exercise more often is because they would be out of business.

  • That is funny but is somewhat true. I know many doctors who prescribe

    exercise though. The problem is a lot of patients don't seem to take their

    advice to heart.

    Anna

  • I read this article at the perfect time! I have just slipped into a few stressful weeks, with deadlines and other personal circumstances. Knowing that hitting the gym will help reduce my stress level is reason enough to go! Thanks for the informative post.

  • It definitely is reason enough to go. Glad you found the article helpful,

    Jordan!

    Anna

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  • This is a great post and good research. I really enjoy your site and refer to in often.