Exercising to relieve stress


Innocent Choga Fitness
Exercise has always been prescribed as one of the most effective ways of dealing with stress. Stress is a word that we all throw around all the time. Everyone including the very young seems to know what stress is and the fact that it is bad for our health and fitness. So many pleasant and

unpleasant situations in life cause stress and we cannot run away from some of these situations we experience in life.

We experience stress as a result of elation, fear, anger, irritation, hunger and other worries. Hence it is not only the bad vibes only that cause stress but even good vibes can be source of stress. If stress persists for a long time it can cause damage to health

The changes that occur to our bodies as a result of stress include drainage of blood from the surfaces of our bodies or extra supply of blood. This causes us to experience cold or hot body temperatures particularly in the face and hands. The cold will result in us feeling a chill even when the temperatures are warm and hot flushes will result in us sweating even when it is cold outside.

Stress also affects the lungs as it can also cause us to breathe rapidly. Sometimes the heart will beat faster in order to pump more blood to muscles or we may even feel the heart skip a beat. We may lose control of the bladder resulting in frequent urination.

The adrenal glands may also be affected, releasing hormones such that we may experience a rush of adrenalin. Our muscles may twitch or increase their tone in readiness for action. Small muscles in the skin may contract making us to perspire and causing goose pimples.

The adrenalin flow increases our heart rates, releasing the fight or flight hormones, which are responsible for our immediate reaction to a situation; either we fight for our lives or we run for our lives.

Some of the harmful effects can be headache, upset stomach, tiredness, or irritableness. These, however, can be temporary feelings that we can ward off if stress is relieved within a short time.

If stress lasts for a long time the body might not be able to fight off sickness and one might end up suffering from cold, sore throats, severe headaches, blood pressure, heart disease and even ulcers.

I had a chat with Sensei Lowel Mazwei a Third Dan black belt karate instructor at one of the local gyms in Harare, who has some students as young as four. I asked him, how his discipline deals with stress.

He prescribes something like a biblical sermon.

He said karate is open hand and therefore he encourages his students to live an open life ensuring that they always speak the truth and speak out when they feel aggrieved so that they harbour no resentments, no bitterness, no grudges and that they respect the other people as much as they expect respect from them. This then keeps them stress free.

Sensei Lowel said karate teaches people to share what they call exchange programmes and techniques and this extends to sharing problems and ideas in life ensuring that one is always stress free.

He said discipline is very important in karate and he teaches his students self control; they should learn to forgive, lest they be consumed by their own bitterness, since bitterness can stress them rather than those who they perceive to have wronged them.

He said karate can be a dangerous weapon, but just thinking of the repercussions and the resulting stress one has to endure after injuring or killing someone is enough to refrain from violence.

One would rather follow the flight path, fearing the Lord and the law not the adversary. A good karate session will ensure that one is tired and stress free.

In sport, pre-match anticipation tension can cause stress resulting in nervousness, especially for unprepared athletes. Well prepared athletes may be psyched up and view this as an opportune time to showcase their talents.

Problems at home can cause stress and hinder our performances. So when successful athletes always give credit to their families and friends they really mean it, hence the phrase behind every successful person there is a great spouse is true in a sense.

If our fitness programmes are to be successful we need the approval and assistance of our families and friends.

Even pleasant states of mind such as cheerfulness, pleasure and success can be sources of stress.

For example, after passing an exam, we feel elated and we feel like celebrating.

In such cases, I always take a light workout or run in order to calm my nerves and kill the over-excitement.

Anxiety levels in sports competitive children have been reported to be on par with other non-competitive children. Whilst some experts say it is important not to put performance pressure on children, others argue that competition stress teaches children to develop strategies that help them cope with stress and this they can apply to other aspects in life.

In physical education and sport children generally are less stressed than adults.

Research has indicated that competitive stress affects one in ten children. This depends largely on the personality of children and this is usually as a result of fear of failure and lack of self esteem and event importance.

So it is important that children learn to exercise at a very tender age as exercise helps to build confidence and self esteem.

Research has also shown that in some cases parents are not good exercising partners as they have a tendency of piling pressure in the name of parental guidance. Too much pressure can cause burnout and rejection of a physical activity.

Experts advise that children should not specialize in any particular physical activity despite being talented. They should engage in many physical activities until the age of say fifteen. Prolonged stress in one sporting activity can cause burnout in children.

I also had a chat with 33-year-old Chipo Mutedzi, a physical education and sports teacher at Gwindingwi High School in Mutare, who said that some girls and women experience stress due to pre-menstrual and menstrual periods. They may experience depression and anxiety.

Chipo also mentioned that excessive stress itself may cause irregular menstrual periods, and exercising may assist in reducing or eliminating stress.

Even just a light walk may be enough to release the tension caused by stress. She also indicated that stress caused by menstrual periods may hinder the athletic performance of some girls particularly those who are experiencing menarche (the first cycles).

Experienced female athletes generally know how to handle the situation, but it is important that the athletes inform the coach so that the coach can counsel the athlete.

Besides, the coach will be fully aware in the event that the performance of the athlete is below normal, therefore the coach will not compound the effect by demanding too much from the athlete.

Chipo said it is important that an athlete experiencing this phase should take a lot of fluids and food that is rich in iron to replace the fluid and nutrients being lost during this period.

In some cases professional athletes have endocrinologists in their camps. These are physicians who specialize in the management of hormones. They also have dieticians who make sure that they have appropriate diet to ensure performance is not affected .Psychologist will also help to prepare the athletes mentally.

Chipo further highlighted the need for female athletes to wear proper comfortable sanitary pads because ill fitting sanitary wear will further add stress to the athlete.

She also added that some women experiencing the menopause phase may go through a lot of psychological stress and exercise is of great assistance at such a stage, since exercising builds confidence and reduces anxiety.

In exercising and sport, injuries can cause stress and injuries can also be caused by stress. It is necessary to guard against negative exercise addiction.

This is a situation where one depends on and is addicted to exercise for stress relief and excludes all social activities. This can result in problems at home and at work and can cause injuries. Being unable to work out because of injuries can then cause severe depression.

At times we are unable to distinguish physical and psychological stress. Since psychological stress affects the body, some people might think they are physically tired and cannot workout, whereas what they need is a workout which will relieve the tension. As usual my advice is that one should seek the approval of a doctor before taking up any exercise discipline.

Over anxiousness has been seen to have a detrimental effect on performance, but at times anxiousness can energise performance. There is therefore a need in sport for one or a team to engage the services of a psychologist who can measure the degree of anxiousness and convert it into appropriate energy.

Exercising has been known to reduce anxiety but there is need to determine levels of intensity. Research has indicated that frequent and regular exercising might reduce anxiety and prevent the onset of chronic anxiety.

Psychological benefits of exercising include the reduction of stress and depression, enhancing of mood, improvement of self esteem and higher quality of life.

Exercising assists enables us to withstand stressful situations making us hardy.

Hardy individuals are able to have control over external events. They have a sense of involvement, commitment and purpose in life. They are flexible and they can adapt to sudden changes turning them into challenges and opportunities.

  • Contact: [email protected] Innocent Choga is a six time National Bodybuilding Champion with international experience. He is studying for a science degree in Physical Education and Sport.

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