Train to cope with stress


Stress is everywhere in our lives and hits us regularly from all directions. Its sources are endless: a demanding job, a difficult relationship, ongoing financial concerns … fill in the void. These are the everyday stresses that, if continued over a long period of time, can cause irreparable bodily harm. Acute, traumatic attacks of stress – for example, witnessing a terrible event or in a life threatening situation – can be just as harmful, albeit for a much shorter period of time.

Such psychological stress is inevitable. In most cases, you have little control over when it occurs or when it occurs, which is why it is all the more important to combat these stressors with more stress than you deliberately take on: physical stress in the form of exercise.

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Research has shown that exercising can help you better deal with psychological stress that you have not yet encountered.

It used to be purely anecdotal, this idea of ​​fighting fire with fire. "When I go to the gym, I can reduce my anger at the weights or the punching bag to relieve stress," says the senior workaholic CEO. But science has weighed in and supported the claim that regular exercise can help the body counteract the underlying chemical causes of harmful stress. In fact, not only can exercising help relieve immediate anxiety, but research suggests that it can also help you better deal with mental stress that you have not yet encountered. Imagine training yourself for the unpredictable stressors – job loss, family death, or even milder stress like sitting in traffic – that you are likely to experience in the future.

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It really is no different from boxing training for an upcoming fight or a soccer player preparing for the season by lifting weights and running. In this case, you are training for the rigors of life, for one of the most formidable opponents known to man: stress.

As if you need another reason to go to the gym.

Stress problems

A somewhat outdated definition of stress divides it into two different types: eustress (good stress) and distress (bad stress), based on the work of the late endocrinologist Hans Selye a few decades ago. A term that is more commonly used to describe stress these days is allostatic stress, which essentially refers to how the body physiologically responds to repeated attacks of stress. When the body adapts to stress positively, you are in a state of "allostasis," which is a good place. When stress overwhelms the body, you have "allostatic overload," a condition that can lead to numerous negative health effects, from high blood pressure to unwanted weight gain.

Call it what you want. The point is, stress can be good or bad. Like death and taxes, stress is inevitable so you can either let it relieve you or make you stronger and more resilient.

“When you talk about good and bad stress, there are times when stress is good, such as B. moderate to strenuous exercise, "says Dr. J. Carson Smith, Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland Department of Kinesiology. “But other types of stressors – psychological stressors – can actually be good for you and act as challenging circumstances to help you grow as a person in some way. You have adjustments to the loads that are good. The problem occurs when you have allostatic overload – that is, when you have stress that does not end or that you do not recover from, or that is excessive and beyond your body's ability to deal with it. "

The linchpin in all of this is the hormone cortisol. In fact, cortisol is so important to stress management that it has unofficially been crowned the body's “main stress hormone”. Every time stress occurs, be it psychological or physical stress, cortisol is released. It's that simple: stress equals cortisol. The problem is that chronically high levels of cortisol in the body lead to some of the most devastating diseases in humans: high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, immune system disorders, and metabolic disorders, to name a few. This is exactly why you hear from people with stressful jobs who have high blood pressure and who are upset with heart attacks. Stress leads directly to high levels of cortisol, and chronically high levels of cortisol lead directly to several risk factors for heart disease.

However, increasing the levels of cortisol in the body is extremely beneficial if it is not kept elevated for long periods of time. The beneficial effects of cortisol are essentially the opposite of the diseases just listed: improved cardiovascular function, a stronger immune system, and an improved metabolism, which can lead to increased fat burning.

This is where exercise comes in. It is a physical strain on the body, which increases cortisol levels. But because exercise is much more controllable and predictable than most types of mental stress – you can plan when and for how long you will exercise, but you can't plan emotional stress the same way – cortisol is easier to keep in check, though it is secreted through physical activity.

"Cortisol is an important key in regulating glucose and lipid metabolism," says Smith. “It helps release glucose into the blood so it can be used as fuel. The problem with psychological stress is that all of these energy substrates are released into the blood, but there is no metabolism to use these resources. So you've released all this stuff into the blood ready to be used as fuel so you can deal with a stressful event, but you're just sitting there doing nothing. Exercise actually involves the same products, but you will use these products during your activity. They are metabolized to make them work better. That is the problem with cortisol when you talk about stress management and psychological stress – it's a bad thing over time because you have too much of it and aren't using it appropriately. "

"Cortisol isn't a generally bad thing," agrees Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., RD, owner of High Performance Nutrition in Mercer Island, Wash. And author of The Good Mood Diet and Power Eating. "Cortisol gets you off the blocks when you're running a race. It's an exciting, wonderful hormone that we have. The problem comes when cortisol is hanging around. It's supposed to do its job and go away."

Weight lifting for women

Voluntarily increasing cortisol through regular exercise and then resetting it with the help of the right diet is your best defense against stress.

Crossover effect

When we talk about different types of stress, we are not comparing apples to oranges. Mental and physical stress are essentially the same at the hormonal level (as are "good stress" and "bad stress" if you prefer to think about it in those terms). In both cases, cortisol is released.

"The body doesn't have a stress hormone specific to running compared to anxiety," says Smith. “It puts out the same thing to deal with both answers. However, the effect on the body depends on the context and perception of the person during that threat or stressor. If you find this to be uncontrollable and there is no escape, this type of stressor can have very damaging effects on the brain and body system over time, especially if it keeps happening over weeks or months. "

This similarity between different types of stressors is good for one simple reason: it allows us to use physical stress to improve our ability to deal with psychological stress. Smith explored this very subject in a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. In the study, 37 subjects completed 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cycling on one day and 30 minutes of sedentary rest (i.e., doing nothing) on ​​another day. After each 30 minute session, they were shown a variety of photos designed to evoke emotional responses similar to stressful events that occur daily in the real world. The study results showed that the subjects' anxiety when looking at the distracting photos remained reduced if they had just exercised, but not if they had just rested.

“What we suggested,” says Smith, “is that when you exercise, you're likely to have a better mood right after that. But even if you encounter something stressful or emotional, the more likely you are to maintain that enhanced mood in the face of this emotional challenge. But we didn't look at this until an hour after training so we don't really know how long it will take. "

As evidenced by Smith's testimony, there is a lack of conclusive scientific data linking exercise and stress management. Strong evidence shows that regular exercise actually helps counteract the negative effects of mental stress, but research has not provided any specific guidelines. Is aerobics a better way to keep stress and cortisol in check than anaerobic weight training, or vice versa? This is still not clear, although it is worth noting that aerobic exercise has been studied more than lifting weights. How many days per week are best for dealing with stress and how long should the training be? Nobody knows. We know that too much exercise (overtraining) can have a negative effect on mood, which would apparently exacerbate high levels of stress.

One thing is certain: if the body's cortisol levels remain elevated for long periods of time in response to stress, bad things will happen to the body. Voluntarily increasing cortisol through regular exercise and then resetting cortisol with the help of proper diet is your best defense against the stress that promises to come your way. The question is: will you fight back?

Mood food

Exercise is known to help manage stress, but certain exercise recommendations are still unclear. The diet, on the other hand, is a bit clearer. Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., RD, offers the following dietary recommendations to help minimize the harmful effects of stress.

Look at the bigger picture

"One way to avoid stress is to feed your body well," says Kleiner. “The body needs a multitude of foods so that all hundreds of thousands of biochemical reactions that occur from moment to moment every day can take place unhindered. So that is the foundation of everything. Before even going into the details and specifics, here is a question: do you keep your body anxious and constantly looking for food, or do you put it in a mode where it builds up? I'm talking about the sports world versus the diet world. The diet world tears your body down and in the sports world we build your body, although I don't know any athlete who can't control his weight. You want to build your body to work at its maximum capacity instead of tearing your body down so that it barely works. We expose our bodies to enormous negative stress when we do not eat enough. "

Healthy fats are not negotiable

“Omega-3 fats, especially docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, are an essential part of the building blocks of the membranes of the brain cells and of our entire nervous system. 60 percent of the brain's mass is fat. When we don't eat the right fats – which is fish oil and the healthy fats that come from avocados, olives, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, and seeds – the body replaces omega-6 fats instead. Omega-6 fats are easily oxidized, while omega-3 fats fight oxidation. And stress is all about oxidation. Whether you are straining your muscles or your brain, these healthy fats will make a huge difference in how your body reacts.

"DHA is crucial for every nerve cell and brain cell we have to repair the oxidative damage that occurs as a side effect of life," says Kleiner. "Most people aren't getting enough DHA, so better supplement it. Get 1,000 milligrams of EPA plus DHA every day unless you eat five large fish meals a week, which almost no one does."

Whey protein

Whey is high in tryptophan, which has been shown to reduce stress.

Whey protein is the way to go

"Research on people who are prone to stress and anxiety has shown that they did not have such a high stress response when supplementing with whey protein," says Kleiner. “Why? Because whey is high in tryptophan, which has been shown to help reduce stress.

"It's no wonder whey is recommended after a workout. Whey protein stops the response to physical stress and begins the repair process by stimulating an anabolic hormonal environment that helps the body maximize its response to physical stress, which we have through training. And it probably also helps the brain to calm down. The best dosage after training is between 22 and 25 grams of whey. "

Save your yolks

“Choline is very important,” explains Kleiner. "It's half of our most abundant neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. And the most abundant source of choline in the American diet is egg yolk. Since we dumped egg yolks down the drain for fear of high cholesterol, we as a nation have taken less than half that recommended amount of choline.

“In an egg yolk, choline is transported as a phospholipid, which is needed by the brain-cell membranes that allow toxins from the cells and nutrients and other factors into the cells. Without adequate amounts of choline, you cannot have a well-fed brain. When your brain is not working well and you don't have the neurotransmitter necessary for optimal thinking and movement, it would stimulate some kind of stress in the body. This is one reason I recommend eating a whole egg every day. Eating two egg yolks a day is unlikely to be harmful (in terms of cholesterol levels) for healthy people. "

Grab grains

“B vitamins need to be raised because of the gluten-free / paleo diet craze. We know that the more stress you get, your B vitamin needs increase, ”she says. “B vitamins play an incredibly important role in the nervous system and mental function, and the main source of B vitamins is grains. There are other sources, like dairy products (another anti-paleo food group), but we get them mostly from grains. I am not saying that you need a grain-based diet. I say we need to be extra careful when cutting out entire food groups. "

Get hydrated

"Water is probably the most important thing." Says little one. “Dehydration affects physical and mental performance faster than anything else. Cell function decreases noticeably when we are dehydrated, the metabolism in the cell slows down and we run the risk of not turning all these stress chemicals around quickly. They'll hang around longer, not to mention make them more focused on our bloodstream. From your nine to eleven cups of fluids, make at least five to six water a day. "