It is no secret that I am a bit of an exercise nut. Thankfully as a kid I didn’t really have the coordination to excel at many sports ... but cross country I could manage. Don’t let me fool you, I was not then and am not now a “good” runner. I have always been very middle-of-the-pack. But lucky for me, running is a sport that you can do long after high school and college. And you don’t have to be good to participate. So at a young age I fell into a lifelong form of exercise that I do, mostly, enjoy. (Come on ... no one loves to run all the time!)
Later in life as I became a fitness professional, I learned more about the many benefits of exercise. So many, in fact, that I’m going to do an entire series! This post is about stress.
Stress is nothing new, but the COVID pandemic multiplied it. According to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety cases increased by 25% during the pandemic. Yikes!
There are many ways to deal with stress. Speaking with a counselor remains high on my list of recommendations! But because I’m a health coach not a counselor, my first response when I am working with a client who wants to better manage their stress is often to ask about exercise.
While exercise will not change the cause of the stress, it does mitigate the physical responses that stress has on your body. It literally diffuses the physical stress response (think tightened muscles, increased heart rate, etc) because exercise is a physical stress on the body … and then it is over. Your body then knows how to stop the stress response when the exercise ends. If you are intrigued, there is more information about this from The Mayo Clinic here.
The harmful effects of stress are due to chronic stress. Exercise helps to make sure the stress response ends and therefore isn’t chronic.
In addition, regular exercisers simply have a higher capacity to deal with whatever challenges life throws their way. Their overall health is better, their weight is better, their mood is better. Their stress level is lower in general so that they have a greater capacity to deal with stress that does come along. I love how Harvard Health describes it here.
So, what is your go-to when you need to manage your stress?
I was enjoying a little “girl time” this weekend with some friends while camping. We left the guys to entertain the small posse of children while we took the dog and did a little hike. No one whined! It was amazing!
On the ride to the coffee shop afterwards (cause … no kids!), the topic of health habits came up. I was asked to chime in regarding their questions regarding some different tactics they had tried. None of them were bad ideas really, but none of them had stuck. It felt to me like everything they had tried was a little on the extreme side. As an example, one woman talked about how difficult it was for her to make two different meals to satisfy the different dietary needs of the family.
So, that all led to a little discussion about habit stacking. I encouraged them to consider making one smallish change. One that doesn’t rock their world and feels very doable long term. Over time, that change will become a little bit more normal. Then it’s time to choose the next small change. Rinse and repeat. It’s not a quick fix, but by golly, over time you may just find you have done a major overhaul of your health habits by taking one small do-able step at a time!
Katie Kolb - Health Coach