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How Exercising Helps Us Cope with Stress and Reduce Anxiety

As the end of the school year approaches, students are busy with final exams, completing projects, meeting deadlines for various assignments, and preparing for important presentations. If you are feeling under pressure, sluggish, overwhelmed or bothered by sleepless nights or anxious thoughts, you may be experiencing symptoms of stress.

So what causes stress? Stress can be caused by external factors such as heavy workloads, deadlines, tragedies or accidents, and our physical environment. On the other hand, stress can also originate internally when we over-analyze problems and worry excessively over uncertain outcomes or results. According to the American Psychological Association, the harmful effects of stress include depression, insomnia, headaches, muscle tension, risks of heart attacks, and anxiety. Studies have shown that frequent exercise has numerous physical and mental benefits; cardio exercise can improve one’s health and possesses multiple stress reduction characteristics. From improving concentration to gaining strength, exercise is clearly beneficial in our everyday lives.

As exercise is well-known for improving physical health, it is worth mentioning some of its advantages. Exercise is efficient for helping people with their physical strength. For example, the more someone works out, their muscles will become more toned and grow stronger, which is called hypertrophy. Muscle hypertrophy occurs when muscles are damaged due to physical training, then healed by the body’s adding new and improved muscle fibres. Aerobic exercise is most common for weight loss and general health improvements. Practicing aerobics can provide us with fresh air, improve blood flow and provide our brains with oxygen. According to the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology, exercise increases concentration and as more oxygen enters the alveoli, the body is nourished which can even increase one's lifespan. Not only does exercise provide us with physical benefits, but it can also give us great mental health benefits.

Many studies show that cardio training reduces stress and anxiety. As the most common cardio exercise, running is most effective for scaling down stress. Most runners are less prone to depression and embody happiness. According to Harvard Medical School, “aerobic exercise is key for your head, just as it is for your heart” because endorphins, natural painkillers, are released and stress hormones are washed away. Also, anxiety in joggers is significantly reduced. People who work out more develop self-confidence, an efficient remedy for fear. The hippocampus, the part of the brain that regulates fear, is triggered when cardio exercise is performed. Toxins in our brains are released as a result of stress, which can cause people difficulty when sleeping. Running is the ideal solution for sleep deprivation and studies by the National Sleep Foundation state that ”physical activity may serve as a non-pharmaceutical alternative to improve sleep.” Sleep quality improves when one’s body temperature lowers, which happens five to six hours after physical activity -- this is when exercise assists sleep. In addition, cerebral circulation, or blood circulation in the brain, occurs more in the hippocampus when aerobic training is performed. This is useful, as the blood flow is also able to rid anyone of the primary stress hormone commonly known as cortisol.

Indeed, there are many ways to keep your mind and body healthy. The most cost-effective remedy for preserving your body’s health is by exercising frequently. Ideally, it is suggested that each week, you perform one hundred and thirty minutes of cardio exercise, and strength training of every muscle group two times per week. Perhaps in simpler terms, thirty minutes of exercise every day should suffice to maintain a healthy mind and body.

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