We exercise to improve our health – to improve things like blood pressure, insulin resistance, immune system response and of course to lose weight. We also know that with intense efforts comes muscle fatigue, soreness, and reductions in muscular function straight after a workout so its important to spend time and effort to recover well.
But what if you exercise well, you spend time recovering and yet you’ve still got niggly injuries that won’t go away or your health markers are not improving?
If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to look at how your stress is impacting your health, exercise and performance.
It’s been shown that psychological stress, whether assessed as ‘life-event stress’ (things like high workload, stressful people in your life, stressful life events) or ‘perceived stress’ (how stressful things feel) impacts recovery from physical stress (like exercise). Both life event and perceived stress not only affected strength and energy levels, life stress made feelings of fatigue and soreness worse. Recovery from exercise is not just better without stress, it happens faster.
Stress, or the fight and flight response, also causes increases adrenal and pituitary gland activity resulting in the release of stress hormones like cortisol which in turn increase blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. So in times of chronic stress, not only are these markers all elevated, they also slow down healing process.
Consider also that stress doesn’t just have to be psychological – all stress is dealt by the body with the same hormonal cascades. Whether the stress is mental/psychological, physical, chemical (things you put on or in your body), environmental (things you’re exposed to in the environment), or electromagnetic, they all have the same effect on the body.
Try some simple things to get out of your fight and flight stress response and into a rest and digest recovery response, for example:
- Slow breathing – when we get stressed our breathing often gets fast and shallow. When slow down our breath we can flip ourselves back into the rest and digest relaxation response. Check out some easy breathing techniques here.
- Meditation – again working with your breath and taking just a few minutes and lower your stress response. If you find meditation boring, check this out.
- Sleep – try to get to sleep by 10pm as your body does its most effective physical repair from 10pm to 2am (and psychological repair from 2am to 6am). More about sleep here.
- Time out doing something you enjoy. More about self-care here.
When you’re not getting the results you want, or you’re feeling excessively sore from your exercise routines, remember that you can’t heal in a stressed state and consider how you can help your recovery by reducing your stress.