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Five reasons why exercise is good for stress

Busy routines, full time jobs, parenting, money worries, caring for elderly parents – we all feel varying levels of stress, daily.

We accept stress happens, but we also know stress often comes from our internal world and so for this Stress Awareness Month, we consider the importance of exercise and how this incredible wellbeing ‘medicine’ helps our mind and body recognise and deal with stress as it happens. 

two people using Outdoor gym equipment

30th March 2023

1. Just breathe 

You probably don’t think about your breath that often, but it’s always there, in the background, when you need it. If you can exercise outdoors in the fresh air, at an outdoor gym, for example, the quality of your breathing will be even better.

Stress places a greater demand on your body and uses up oxygen. Oxygen is essential to help your body manage stress; however, when we are stressed, breathing can become short, rapid and shallow leaving us short of breath – the very opposite of what the body needs.

To power your body during exercise you need deeper breaths. This is particularly true of cardiovascular exercise such as using a cross trainer or bike or running. When you breathe deeply it signals to your nervous system to calm down. 


2. Get to the heart of the matter

Stress can contribute to heart disease, so good heart health is essential for wellbeing. According to the British Heart Foundation, you can reduce your risk of heart and circulatory diseases by up to 35% by exercising regularly. The positive effects of staying active are multi-faceted as it helps to manage weight, reduces blood pressure and cholesterol and improves sleep and feelings of wellbeing. 

Both aerobic and strength/resistance training help improve heart health and should be incorporated into your routine. 


3. Rewire your brain to cope better 

Stress experienced over an extended period of time adversely affects the functioning of the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain responsible for higher cognitive abilities because your limbic system goes into self-protection mode. The effect of this is that when you’re stressed it is harder to exercise. The good news is that your brain actually gets rewired through exercise.

Both short and long term exercise encourage something called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity literally allows the brain to adapt to changes in external factors, helping you to cope better with stressful events. 


4. Feel happy  

Exercise helps to improve your mental and physical wellbeing – which are intrinsically linked. When you exercise the endorphins released make you feel happy and calm and you’ll have better sleep and more energy as a result. 

Leading an active lifestyle also gives a boost to your self-esteem. Consider factoring exercise into your social calendar – group and team exercise boosts your mental health and connecting with other people makes us feel part of something – critical to feeling accepted, valued and seen.


5. Be present in the moment 

In a stressed state, your body produces an adrenaline rush that increases your heart rate, elevates your respiration, tenses your muscles, and changes your blood flow. While this might be just what you need to escape a dangerous situation, it can be damaging when it is ongoing and not addressed. 

Practising mindfulness is an excellent stress management and stress reduction tool. Exercise provides the perfect opportunity to use this tool as when exercising you have to focus on precisely the task at hand.  

Paying attention to the present moment – lifting that weight or concentrating on using that piece of equipment effectively - helps us control the racing, repetitive, and non-productive thoughts that lead to stress. It allows us, in effect, to self-regulate. Practice mini mindful moments during exercise such as concentrating on the placement of your feet or your hands, the movement of your body and the sound of your breath. Enjoy the sense of calm as it begins to fill your body.


About us 

At Fresh Air Fitness, we are on a mission to share our love of outdoor exercise with everyone, nationwide. Since 2007, we have installed over 4,000 outdoor gyms in parks, green spaces and schools to bring the joys and fun of outdoor fitness to as many communities as we can. Getting fit at an outdoor gym is free and it is often the beating heart of the community. 

If you would like to find out more about how to install an outdoor gym in your local park, school, or green space, you can complete our brief enquiry form or call us on tel. 01483 608 860. Our team is here to help answer any questions you may have. If you would like to find the nearest outdoor gym to you, use our free outdoor gym locator tool.

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