Many of us have heard that we should “reduce our stress”. But how many of us can fire our boss, have a toddler than can get his or her own dinner or move the project deadline. The sad truth is that stress is part of our 21st century life. The great news is that stress is like brushing our teeth. The food, which is like stress, occurs daily and gets all over our teeth in much the same way the inflammation from the stress hormone cortisol gets all over our cells. The solution is not to stop eating but to brush and floss the food off our teeth to prevent the decay and deterioration of our teeth and gums. We need to brush and floss our cells and clean the inflammation from the stress that has occurred that day.
Exercise has been shown to be an amazing way to decrease and more importantly, erase, stress. We also get the added benefit of the release of endorphins, the fee-good neurotransmitters, when we exercise.
Exercise also helps you move beyond the day’s aggravations through repeated motions that promote focus on your body, not your mind. By concentrating almost exclusively on the rhythm and beat of your exercise, you experience many of the same benefits of meditation.
Lastly, our bodies and the movements and positions we put them in have been shown to have a profound effect on hormones, including stress hormones. The hormones testosterone and cortisol have been shown to have the closest correlation with stress and stress management. Testosterone is the confidence hormone and cortisol is the reactive stress hormone. To best deal with stress you want to have your testosterone levels at their natural highest and cortisol levels low.
Here are 5 exercises that will help you with stress and your hormones:
1. Standing for 2 minutes in the wonder woman or superman pose. A study from Harvard showed that your levels of cortisol decrease by 25% and levels of testosterone increase by 20% just by standing in a confident pose for 2 minutes. This is something you can do before a stressful meeting or exam, before an interview or daily to be your best.
2. Walking, especially outdoors. Sometimes our exercise can be a stress all on its own. Many people need to work out less intensely to lose weight and to allow stress hormones to decrease. Walking is a low impact exercise and when done outside has been shown to increase your natural human growth hormone levels and decrease stress.
3. Yoga. Hatha yoga and other types of yoga have built in breathing and stretching which helps our muscles release tension and lower stress in our bodies. The philosophy of honoring where your body where your body is in the moment prevents additional stress from straining and overworking.
4. Dancing. You can dance in your living room, go out dancing or take a class. Moving your body to music is very beneficial for stress erasing. The focus is on the music and movement and there often is no room for anything else. Additionally, studies showed that people that did ballroom dancing twice per week had a lower incidence of dementia.
5. Breathing. Many people don’t think of breathing as an exercise. We do it all day every day. But doing intentional breathing exercises daily is the most powerful stress reduction tool I know. Breathing deeply and allowing your belly to expand stimulates that the parasympathetic nervous system which is in charge of rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. Try the following: breathe in through your nose for the count of 4, hold your breath for the count of 7 and exhale through your mouth for the count of 8. Take three of these breaths before each meal and before going to bed. You will be amazed at the change in how you feel.
We think of relaxation as not doing something. The reality is that when we relax by watching TV or spending time on our iPads we are just merely not adding more stress, but it is not erasing stress. It is not brushing and flossing our cells. You need to do something to turn on relaxation and it can be as easy as breathing.
One more important thing is to remember that some of us exercise too much and/or too hard. Exercise can be a significant stress on our adrenals and if you push too hard while suffering from adrenal fatigue the result will be fat accumulation around the belly and you will not see the muscle definition you are working for. Work smarter, not harder.
Share on my Facebook wall to tell me what you do to turn on the relaxation response.
Committed to your Vitality,