Stress is a natural byproduct of the competing forces in our lives.  It helps us focus on our priorities.  It creates a sense of urgency.  Often, it brings out the best in us.  But, how does a normal level of stress become a debilitating, even potentially life-threatening, condition of distress?  The answer is different for each person.  For many, it happens in the workplace.  Unavoidable conflicts and pressing deadlines are especially difficult for those people who are overly competitive, perfectionists or impatient.  For others, having a low self-concept, thinking negatively, or holding on to unrealistic expectations can lead to a cycle of self-fulfilling, stress-inducing disappointments.  Many of us tend to manufacture a great deal more stress than we can handle.  It becomes a burden that we carry throughout our personal and professional lives until finally, as medical research clearly shows, it begins to break us down physically.  However, there are ways to reduce some of the stress in your life.

It is literally and physically possible to walk, jog or run right into a happier, less stressful lifestyle.  The first step is an exercise program.  Research has consistently shown that exercise and physical activities are the most effective ways to deal with stress physiologically.  In other words, that old bromide about needing to "run off steam" isn't far from wrong.  In fact, exercise has proven to help open arteries, reduce blood pressure and heart rate, and bring into balance your overall state of body and mind.  Besides just making you look and feel better, regular exercise gives you a period of time to re-evaluate and readjust.  It literally strengthens your self-image and sense of control at the same time it is trimming the fat from your body.

The best way to "ease your mind" is by exercising your body.  Aerobic exercise, or cardiovascular endurance training, is a workout tailored for the heart, the lungs and your brain, too.  Controlled studies have shown that even a basic program of aerobic exercise, 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week, can produce significant improvement in a person's psychological function and outlook.  Exercising subjects showed less overall fatigue, greatly decreased levels of anxiety and depression, and consequently, a much stronger sense of well being.

If it is true that feeling better about yourself begins with taking a good hard looking the mirror, strength training will help you like what you see.  It lifts and tones the muscles, helping to create a leaner, more sculpted physical appearance.  And, in terms of your psychological well-being, it also provides greater levels of stamina and endurance.  But, the specialized objectives of strength training require appropriate equipment.  And it is important for you to select a program that is both effective and safe.  For this reason, you should consider looking into equipment using isokinetic resistance as it automatically adjusts the amount of resistance to meet your ability level.  Above all, you should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Aerobic exercise can:

Strength training can:

Exercise Tips

  • Take exercise breaks throughout the day to help fortify the brain, alleviate anxiety and depression while elevating your mood.
  • Choose an enjoyable form of exercise with pleasant surroundings.  For example, exercise in a room with a stereo, television or a big picture window.
  • Exercise consistently: 3-5 times a week for 20-30 minutes each time, at a sufficient intensity to strengthen the heart as well as the brain.  Research has shown that a fairly high intensity level is necessary to reach "exercise euphoria".

Source:  The National Exercise for Life Institute (NEFLI), 2002

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