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[Stress Home Page][Holisticonline Home]

Exercise

Research has shown that physical exercise is the best tension reliever. It is a very important remedy for stress. Nothing eases stress more than exercise. Exercise, when property done, gives your body time to operate in the efficiency mode.

Physically, exercise improves your cardiovascular functions by strengthening and enlarging the heart, causing greater elasticity of the blood vessels, increasing oxygen throughout your body, and lowering your blood levels of fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides. All of this, of course, means less chance of developing heart conditions, strokes, or high blood pressure.

Mentally, exercise provides an outlet for negative emotions such as frustration, anger, and irritability, thereby promoting a more positive mood and outlook. Exercise improves mood by producing positive biochemical changes in the body and brain. Regular exercise reduces the amount of adrenal hormones your body releases in response to stress. Also, with exercise, your body releases greater amounts of endorphins, the powerful, pain-relieving, mood-elevating chemicals in the brain. Depressed people often lack these neurochemicals. Endorphins are natural pain killers and also help lift your mood. The runner's high is a result of the increased endorphins in the body. Exercise, therefore, will keep your body functioning properly and will keep you feeling both relaxed, refreshed and promote deep, restful sleep

Exercise seems to be a popular 'fix' for stress, this is something that must be approached with caution. For people who have a sedentary job or lifestyle it could work wonders. For the person who is already overworked and physically drained it simply does not make any sense whatsoever to add any additional workload.

Begin an exercise that you enjoy, Preferably, do something that brings you into contact with other people. The value of such exercise, three times a week for 20 minutes to two hours, can not be over emphasized.

Problems always seem less important when you are walking, swimming, running, cycling, or are involved in any physical pursuit; apart from the mental benefits, physical exercise uses up excess adrenaline

Exercise has another beneficial effect. Most people, when exercising, do not worry. They are actually resting the nerve cells in the brain that worry, giving those cells time to renew themselves, so they can function normally the next time they are needed. There are other ways of "resting your mind". Dancing, listening to music, reading, working on a craft, playing a musical instrument, meditation, self relaxation, and biofeedback also relieve stress. Any activity which concentrates your attention on a subject other than life's problems will help rest your mind. This allows the brain to renew itself.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise

There are two types of exercise that perform different functions. Aerobic exercise is sustained activity involving the major muscle groups, such as swimming, running, or brisk walking. Your heart and respiratory rate increase, and more oxygen is circulated through the body. This kind of exercise strengthens your cardiovascular system and increases your overall strength and stamina. The goal of aerobic exercise is for your pulse to reach a training rate that is appropriate for your age. You must stay at the rate for twenty minutes, and exercise three times a week, in order to reap the benefits of aerobic exercise.

You've probably heard of "low-impact," or anaerobic, exercise. This means that you are not exercising vigorously or long enough to reach and maintain your training heart rate. It does not mean, however, that low-impact exercise is useless. It improves your muscle strength and flexibility and can still be a good outlet for negative feelings that you might have bottled up.

There are three kinds of anaerobic exercise.

  1. Isotonics require that your muscles contract against a resistant object with movement, such as in weight lifting.
  2. Isometrics requires that your muscles contract against resistance without movement. Isometric exercises increase strength without building bulk.
  3. Calisthenics are stretching exercises, such as sit-ups, toe-touches, and knee-bends, help increase flexibility and joint mobility.

The kinds of exercises you choose to do depend on your physical ability as well as your preferences. The most important rule is to choose activities that you enjoy and that are accessible and feasible for you to do regularly. You also should consider whether you want to make your exercise routine personal time in which you can be alone with your thoughts or a more social activity. Some people find that exercising with others provides them with support and encouragement and it can even be fun!

Before you begin an exercise program, you should have a physical examination. If you are over the age of forty, your doctor will probably want to do a stress electrocardiogram to determine how much activity your heart can handle. If you have not exercised regularly for some time, begin slowly with low-impact exercise and gradually increase your activity. If you experience any adverse side effects, such as dizziness, cramps, or chest pain, stop exercising and consult your physician.

A Good Exercise Program

There are a number of aspects to a good exercise program.

Regular physical work. Regular physical work. .

This should be endurance-type work – ie., effort that is sustainable for at least 20 to 60 minutes.

This work should be primarily aerobic with intermittent bouts of anaerobic work.

Exercise should be done at least five days consecutively, each week.

The human body craves consistency and can make adjustments to long-term demands placed upon it. If you exercise three times per week, it will have a conditioning effect on your heart, but the heart is not the only thing that needs to perform efficiently during exercise. The other organs and muscle tissues will respond much differently to five days in a row. For five days in a row, the body continues to receive the message that it needs to perform efficiently in order to keep up. It adjusts to meet the demand and the result is efficient operation of the whole system, all the time, even on the two days you don't exercise.

Most people gain weight due to stress and not because of increased food intake or reduction in activity levels. Combining regular, vigorous exercise along with eliminating stress can bring about a reversal: significant weight reduction.

Five days of regular, vigorous exercise does stimulate efficiency throughout the body. Too much vigorous exercise can cause the body to go into the survival mode and cause damage to the regular efficient system. This is why it is vital that exercise is begun gradually and increased gradually.

Low Impact Exercise for Home

Following is a basic low-impact exercise routine that you can do at home. Remember that this does not provide aerobic workout-for that you must choose an activity such as bicycling, running, brisk walking, swimming, aerobic dance, or use a machine such as a stationary bicycle, Lifecycle, Stairmaster, or treadmill. When you exercise, wear loose, comfortable clothing and supportive sneakers. Wait two hours after a meal before exercising in order to avoid cramping or nausea, and he sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout.

Warming Up (at least five minutes)

1. Stand with your feet a shoulder-width apart, your arms at your sides. Gently roll your head in a half circle in front of you, back and forth a few times. With your head straight, drop your left ear to your shoulder and hold. Bring your head to center and drop your right ear to your shoulder and hold. Bring your head back up and drop your chin to your chest. Head up and drop it back. Bring your head back up and face forward.

2. Shrug your shoulders up and release; repeat this six times. Roll your shoulders backward six times; roll them forward six times.

3. Place your left hand on your hip and raise your right arm up. Keeping your torso straight, reach your right arm over your head, bending to the left from your waist. Hold and then return to center. Repeat with the left arm reaching over your head to the right. You should feel a stretch in your sides.

4. Stand with your feet slightly more than a shoulder- width apart. Reach down your left leg as far as you can, trying to touch your ankle or toes if possible. Hold for ten seconds. Slowly roll yourself upright, keeping your head down to avoid dizziness. Now reach down your right leg in the same manner and hold. Again, roll up slowly with your head down. This stretches the muscles in the backs of your legs.

5. Still standing with your feet apart, turn to your left. Bend your left knee and extend your right leg straight out behind you. Center your body so that your left knee is bent at a 90-degree angle to the floor. Hold this position, called a runner's stretch, for a count of ten, gently pressing your straight leg down toward the floor. You'll feel the stretch in the thigh muscle of the out- stretched leg. Repeat this exercise with your right leg. 

6. To stretch your Achilles tendon and calf muscles, stand two to three feet from a wall and place your hands on it. Keeping your legs straight and your feet flat on the floor, lean in to the wall. You should feel the stretch in your legs; hold it for ten seconds. Try stepping back a bit farther to increase the stretch; remember that your feet should remain flat on the floor.

Exercising and Conditioning (15-20 minutes)

With all of the following exercises, be sure to do the repetitions slowly and evenly, with some tension in your limbs. Your arms should not simply swing back and forth, but should move in a controlled, deliberate way, almost as if they were resisting against an invisible weight.

All of these suggest ten repetitions, but if you are just starting out, do as many as you feel comfortable doing. "No pain, no gain" may be true to some extent for accomplished athletes, but for the average person, pain often signifies stress. Try to stay tuned to the sensations in your muscles and use common sense. If it hurts too much, it's time to stop. As you exercise, your muscle tissue actually breaks down. In order to allow your muscles time to restore themselves, work out every other day or exercise various body areas on alternating days.

Arms

I. Stand with your feet a shoulder-width apart, stomach tucked in, and back straight. Extend your arms out to the sides with you, palms facing out. Bring your arms in together straight out in front of you, palms out, and extend back out. Do ten repetitions.

2. Keeping your arms extended, bring them straight up together above your head, then drop them so that they extend out to the sides. Repeat ten times.

3. Arms still extended with palms facing out, move

your arms forward in small circles. Do ten of these and then increase to a medium-size circle. Do ten repetitions and then ten more, making the largest circle you can. Repeat this cycle, moving your arms backward.

4. Extend your arms out to the sides, bend them at the elbows, and make fists. Squeeze your bent arms together so that your forearms meet in front of you. This exercise works the chest and arms.

5. To work your biceps, extend your arms straight down at your sides with your inner forearms and fists facing up. Bending at the elbow, squeeze your fists to your shoulders. In order to obtain the maximum benefit, pretend that there is a weight on your inner forearm and resist against the pressure as you squeeze up.

Waist

1. Standing with your feet a shoulder-width apart, bend to the left, reaching slightly down and out as far as you can with your left arm. Your right hand can remain on your hip or your elbow can raise up simultaneously as you are reaching to the side with your left arm. Do ten repetitions and then repeat with the right side.

2. Standing with your feet apart, place your hands on your hips or raise your arms to chest level and bend them at the elbows so that your forearms are directly in front of your chest. Keeping your hips straight, move from the waist, twisting ten times to the left and ten times to the right. Then try alternating, pausing in the forward position between each twist.

3. This one may be a little harder to do. Sit on the floor with your legs spread open as wide as possible and your hands clasped behind your head. Keeping your back straight and your elbows back, reach down toward the floor behind your left knee with your left elbow. Come up, pause, and then reach down toward the floor with your right elbow. Do ten repetitions.

Abdomen

1. Sit on the floor with your knees slightly bent and your back straight. You can hold your arms straight out in front of you for balance, or you can cross them over your chest. From this sitting position, slowly roll back so that your shoulders are just a few inches above the floor. Pause and then slowly roll back up to a sitting position. As you do this exercise, always press the small of your back downward, rather than arching your back, in order to prevent strain. Do ten repetitions.

2. Lie on the floor with your stomach tucked in so that the small of your back presses down toward the floor. Bend your knees slightly and keep your feet flat on the floor. Clasp your hands behind your head, and, keeping your elbows back as much as possible, slowly raise your head and shoulders up off the ground. In order to help you do this exercise properly, pick a spot on the ceiling and raise your chin up toward that spot. Your head, neck, and shoulders should stay aligned and straight; you should not be "hunching" up, tucking your chin in, or using your elbows and arms to pull you up. If you don't do this exercise in the proper way, your abdomen will not benefit at all. If you do it properly, however, you will feel your abdominal muscles contract as you come up and relax as you come down. Do ten repetitions slowly and rhythmically.

3. This is a more advanced form of exercise 2. Lying in the same position, rest your left leg on your right knee. Lift your head and shoulders up in the same manner as above. Do ten repetitions and then switch legs for ten more.

Thighs

Sit on the floor with your back straight, your hands on the floor to your sides and slightly behind you with your arms straight to support your body. Keeping your right leg relaxed, straighten your left leg, point your toe, and slowly raise it up about a foot off the ground. Lower the leg and repeat ten times. Switch legs and repeat ten times with your right leg. Remember to keep your back straight as you do this exercise.

Inner Thighs

Sitting in the same position as in the "Thighs" exercise with your legs extended straight out in front of you, lift your left leg a few inches off the floor, point your toe, and slowly move it out to the left. You'll feel a nice stretch on the inside of your thigh. Bring your leg back to the starting position, and repeat ten times. Switch legs and repeat ten times with your right leg.

Outer Thighs

Lie on your left side, your left arm bent at the elbow so that your hand supports your head, your legs stacked on top of each other. Make sure that your back is straight, and tilt your pelvis slightly toward the floor. Bend your bottom leg at the knee and keep this leg relaxed. Straighten your top leg, toe pointed, and raise it up as far as you can. You want to keep your leg straight as you raise it so that the outer thigh is parallel with the ceiling. Lower your leg and repeat ten times. When you do this exercise, pretend that there is a weight on your outer thigh and resist against it as you raise your leg. This will maximize the benefit to your muscles. Do ten repetitions and then lie on your opposite side and work your opposite leg.

Buttocks

Lie on your back, your knees bent with your feet apart, your hands clasped behind your head or placed under your buttocks. Without arching your back, lift your buttocks off the floor. Squeeze your buttocks with each lift and then release as you come back to the floor. Do ten repetitions with your feet apart and then ten with your feet together. As you master this exercise, you can do it keeping your feet apart with your knees together; with your feet together and your knees spread apart. Those who are more advanced can cross one leg over the opposite knee and vice versa.

Using the stretches described in the warm-up, be sure to spend at least five minutes cooling down after your exercise routine. If you do aerobic exercise, cool down by slowing your pace for five minutes as well as doing five minutes of stretching exercises. For example, when you're done jogging or bicycling, take a brisk walk to cool down; if you swim, cool down by doing gentle breast-, back-, or sidestrokes for five minutes. Although you may be tempted sometimes to skip the stretching, remember that your muscles have contracted and tightened during exercise, and they must be stretched out in order to prevent cramping and injuries, such as pulls.

Recommendations

Aerobic exercise daily

bulletWalking in the woods, at the beach, or in a park
bulletParticipate in a sporting event, such as tennis, basketball, volleyball, racquetball, softball, and many others.
bulletRide a bicycle
bulletYoga
bulletTai chi chuan or some other form of martial arts

An Exercise for the Neck

When you are stressed, often the first place you feel it is your neck. Try this four-way neck release recommended by former world-class track and field athlete Greg Herzog in his book, "The 15Minute Executive Stress Relief Program" (repeat each of the following exercises three times):

1. With your right hand, reach over your head and behind your left ear, grasping your neck with your fingers. Pull your head gently toward your right shoulder.

2. Do the same exercise, but this time use your left hand to pull your head toward your left shoulder.

3. Clasp your hands behind your head, with your elbows flared and your head bowed toward your chest. Relax in this position for 30 seconds. Then while pulling down with your hands, slowly push your head back until you are looking at the ceiling.

4. Place the palm of your left hand on your forehead, with the bottom of your palm at the bridge of your nose. Hold your right arm across your body so that you can rest your left elbow on your right wrist. Now push against your left palm with your forehead while keeping your right arm locked. Switch hands and repeat.

Related Topics: Yoga, Shiatsu, Meditation

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