Sometimes we feel that we are being bombarded with orders to take more exercise, with advertisements designed to make us feel guilty if we don’t. If we can get beyond our knee-jerk reactions to what can feel like nagging, there is a lot of good sense in what we are being told. Regular (appropriate) exercise will contribute to keeping our bodies healthy and can also help to reduce the excessive stress we may be experiencing.
We all need a certain amount of stress in order to survive – we are programmed to react very quickly to dangerous or threatening situations with a burst of adrenaline and increased strength and energy, our perceptions are sharpened and we do not relax. This is great if we need to jump out of the path of an oncoming bus (or a wild boar or a grizzly bear), or if we need to be very alert mentally for an important test or exam, but it is not healthy to maintain that level of arousal at all times. It is a very ancient response, and not one that we need when we are stuck in a traffic jam or worried about how long we might be able to keep our job. We have all heard the expression “stress-related illness”, which is sometimes dismissed with scorn or disbelief, but in fact it is true that prolonged periods of stress which cannot be relieved by some activity/action on our part can be very unhealthy indeed. Our minds and bodies are a single entity and what affects one element of our being will have an impact on the rest. Our immune system will certainly become less effective. We have all heard the expression “stress-related illness”, which some people are sceptical about. It exists.
These days physical exercise plays a very small part in many people’s lives. We travel by car or bike, or if we use the train we use the journey to do more work, we sit at desks all day, we fall asleep watching television at the end of a difficult day and when we finally go to bed we can’t relax enough to sleep; we say we “can’t switch off”, a very good description of what is happening in our bodies. Our whole system is still on high alert, so of course we can’t sleep.
Physical exercise can be a very good aid to relaxation, as long as we don’t get pulled into the highly competitive sector. Competition doesn’t need to be against anyone else, we can easily became obsessed with improving our own speed or distance or accuracy or recovery rate, competing against ourselves so that the exercise becomes a contributor to our excess stress rather than a relief from it. Physical tiredness is a great contributor towards falling asleep at an appropriate time. Strenuous exercise just before bedtime is not. Depriving prisoners of sleep is a very old and well-established form of torture. Why inflict it on yourself?
You don’t need expensive gym membership or costly equipment and clothing. Brisk walking is considered to be the best all round exercise, and all you need is a pair of decent walking shoes or trainers and clothes which don’t restrict you. If you have to carry stuff while you are walking, use a back-pack if possible. A bag carried in one hand or slung over one shoulder will unbalance and distort your movement. And don’t put it off because you haven’t got an hour to spare. Twenty minutes spent in brisk walking three times a week will apparently have a positive imac on your health. Set that as your base-line and take every opportunity to add on five minutes here and there – get off the bus a stop earlier than you need to; use stairs rather than escalators or lifts; dance around the dusting – these small changes will have a cumulative positive effect.
We know now about the importance of regular movement to stimulate our circulation during flights. Why not try some of the same movements while sitting at your desk or watching television? And remember to stand up at least once an hour if circumstances allow – obviously not wise during a three-hour examination.
I hope it’s becoming clear that you don’t have to make huge changes in your life to make space for some very beneficial exercise. See what you can manage and allow yourself to feel pleased at the positive effects. And laugh when you get the chance; laughter is another relaxant. You might even find that as well as reducing your stress you have lowered your blood pressure, improved your general health and begun to enjoy life more.