Exercise, The Hidden Healer

Stress, the eternal bane of human existence. In small doses, it can be a potent motivator but when left unchecked it can lead to disaster. Day in and day out stress attempts to derail our lives, taxing our body and minds. This perpetual nemesis can be debilitating but you can fight back with physical activity.

In fact, for an investigation I conducted in English 101, on how students utilize student services, I found that exercise had been clinically proven to combat stress. As I dove deeper, it became apparent that exercise does more than just combating stress. When you exercise, neurotransmitters are released, sending endorphins and serotonin coursing through your body. These neurotransmitters not only relieve stress but also help reduce fatigue, improve concentration, and enhance overall cognitive function.

Have you ever heard of a runner’s high? It is caused by your body releasing endorphins. Endorphins are produced as a response to stress, fear or pain. For example, when an athlete pushes themselves to a new level of performance these chemicals are released into their bloodstream. Most endorphins are produced in the pituitary gland, however there are traces of them in other regions of the brain and nervous system. By inducing enough physical stress your body releases its own version of a pain killer or opiate which can lower your blood pressure, boost your immune system, reduce stress and anxiety, and has even been said to slow down the aging process. To benefit the most, it is recommended that an individual exercise at least 3 times a week, performing constantly varied movements performed at a high intensity across a broad spectrum of time.

How long does one need to exercise to experience these positive side effects? The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate to intense exercise, but it has been shown that individuals begin to feel the benefit within the first 20 minutes of exercise. In one study, of 1,488 adults, 53% report that they feel good after they exercise, 35% say that exercise puts them in a good mood and 30% say they feel less stressed after exercising.

With all these great benefits, why isn’t everyone exercising? When I reached out to my peer’s I was given answers like; it’s challenging, intimidating, and/or we just don’t have the time. In one clinical study researchers found that only 17% adults reported that they exercised regularly. By neglecting our body of much needed daily exercise, we leave the door open for stress to creep into our lives. Just a few of the side effects include: tense muscles, fidgeting, taut or drawn out facial expressions, headaches, and neck or back pain. These physical factors can be so harsh that they have been found to heighten the already present mental stress, which can lead to a vicious and seemingly endless cycle.

Are you willing to roll over and simply accept stress and all the negative effects that go with it or are you going to face the challenge and make the time to exercise? The positive side effects are enormous. By exercising for roughly 20 minutes a day, one can increase the longevity of their life, lower their level of stress, and boost their immune system. So, the question I leave you with is: Are you going to be the next victim of stress and inactivity or are you going to make the time to embrace physical activity?

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