And We Really Need an Awareness Month for This?

Hey baby boomers and older adults, just when you’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel for COVID-19, it’s time to celebrate National Stress Awareness Month!  That’s right, April is the month to acknowledge the effects of stress and educate people about ways to reduce and manage it.

So I’m re-posting parts of a blog I published last year about how physical activity can help mitigate stress and elevate your mood, because–let’s face it–we’re still looking for ways to do that.

Increase Your Movement, Elevate Your Mood

Instead of plopping in front of the TV all day, seeking out medications, or turning to alcohol, take a serious look at using physical activity to help you through the rest of this crisis.  It’s free, there are no adverse side effects, and it’s proven to help.

You’re Not Alone

A study published on April 2, 2020 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found almost half of adults  (45%) feel that worry and stress related to the coronavirus have had a negative impact on their mental health.

And the uncertainties are still difficult to deal with: What activities can I safely engage in now? When can we travel again? And can I really get back to my Friday routine of dinner and a movie?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stress during an infectious disease outbreak can manifest in the following ways:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic and mental health problems

Physical Activity to the Rescue

Fortunately, exercise positively impacts several of these issues.  Let’s review what the research is showing us.

We’ve all heard a hundred times that exercise is good for us, and we should get 150 minutes of it each week.  Physical activity helps you fight disease and manage your weight.  You may also know that exercise increases your body’s endorphin level–the “feel good” hormone.

But there’s more.  Physical activity can also reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, leading to decreased overall levels of tension, elevated and stabilized mood, improved sleep and self-esteem. 

Exercise may help by training the brain to cope better with stress.  And some experts believe physical activity is as effective as medication, relaxation, and meditation in dealing with these issues.

Although the exact mechanisms by which exercise helps supports your mood are not known,   researchers are focusing on promising areas such as its effects on hormones and proteins in the brain.  In addition to endorphins, they’re looking at BDNF and growth factors, proteins that  increase brain growth and connections in the hippocampus, critical for mental health.

Physical activity also increases self-efficacy, that “I-can” feeling one gets after doing something challenging.

Specific Recommendations

Different people will respond in different ways to any treatment for mental health, including exercise.  While some people experience positive effects, others may notice no changes at all.  But we do know that any kind of physical activity thought of as “too difficult” can lead to negative feelings.

And just how long the positive feelings last is still up for grabs.  Some studies show short-term effects only, while others claim the benefits last several hours.  But the effects of an occasional bout of exercise won’t last forever, so it’s still vital to be physically active on a regular basis.

Most people start to notice improved mood with as little as 5 – 10 minutes of exercise. 

Both strength training and cardiovascular exercise have been shown to help reduce feelings of anxiety.

Bottom line:  take the time this month to find an activity you enjoy and do it do on a regular basis.

For more ideas to put more movement in your daily routine to reduce stress, reach out to me.

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