The past year has been a stressful one for a large majority of people for obvious reasons, with many people’s lives becoming heavily out of balance due to financial pressures and work pressures. Many relationships are also suffering due to the pandemic.
Could exercise (even in smaller doses) be the answer that a lot of people are looking for, and if so, what could you expect to gain from it?
1. EXERCISE REDUCES CHRONIC CORTISOL LEVELS
Cortisol can be summarized very simply as the ‘fight or flight hormone’, and is very closely linked with stress. When this fight or flight response is constantly activated, your body can suffer real damage.
When you encounter a threat (real or perceived), your hypothalamus sets off an alarm system within your body, including a significant increase in adrenaline and cortisol. This is actually beneficial in small doses. But when it’s chronic? It can cause health problems.
As far as the cortisol-exercise correlation is concerned, exercise can lead to a very temporary increase in blood levels, but a mid to long-term decrease, which is what truly matters when it comes to a healthy lifestyle.
Not only this, but exercise tends to enhance mood and clarity of thinking, especially once the heart rate is elevated and blood flow is optimized. This can be extremely useful during stressful times when you may be focusing too much on negative thoughts.
2. EXERCISE MAY PROMOTE A BETTER WORK/LIFE BALANCE
One thing that people across the world are struggling with right now, is balancing their time between work and relaxation/leisure.
This might be fine for temporary projects. But if you were being forced into a position whereby you were:
- Working 80+ hours per week
- Never taking time off due to a fear of losing your job
- Constantly being consumed by emails and work projects on your weekends
- Feeling overwhelmed on a weekly basis
Then it’s safe to say that your work/life balance may be unhealthy. Which could lead to neglecting your mental health and relaxation, physical health, family life, and spouse.
So how could exercise promote a better work/life balance for you?
Even if the exercise was performed in smaller quantities, it may force you to focus your energies and thoughts somewhere away from work, even for a brief period of time, especially if the activity was intense. It’s almost impossible to be worrying about work while sprinting, for example.
Not only this, but it may force you to improve their mental health as a result of this physical activity, according to this study:
“Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.”
Improved mental health and self-esteem flows into everything you, do including your work and relationships.
What’s more, is that this study wasn’t just focusing necessarily on LISS (low-intensity steady-state cardio) either. The benefits extend into HIIT (high-intensity interval training), which tends to be far more time-efficient, and less boring.
So if you currently have a high-stress career, you don’t just have to be on the treadmill or the stationary bike for hours on end in order to achieve these benefits – you have a multitude of options that may actually be more enjoyable and sustainable for you.
3. EXERCISE MAY INCREASE FOCUS & PRODUCTIVITY
Meaning that exercise not only functions as a stress-reliever, but it also improves the quality and the quantity of work produced in your career by improving your focus.
There would be less need to worry about job loss if work was always produced at an extremely high level of quality, and perhaps an 80 hour week could be condensed into a 70 or 60 hour week if productivity was elevated.
So how can exercise do this for you exactly?
The three main pathways are increased blood flow, oxygen flow, and glycogen transportation to the brain. Essentially, the brain just performs better, with an absence of common issues like brain fog.
This study, for example, noted a 72% improvement in time management and work completed on days when the participants exercised. A 72% increase is absolutely enormous and could be a game-changer if performed every morning before going to work.
Furthermore, studies have made strong links between sitting all day and reduced productivity in office workers. Meaning that if these 80+ hour work weeks are being spent sat down, then there may be a lot of time being wasted.
Perhaps not only exercising in the morning would save time (via enhanced productivity levels), but also walking outdoors during lunch in the fresh air could lead to beneficial results in weekly productivity.
4. EXERCISE BOOSTS THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
This is potentially one of the biggest fears that many people have at the moment.
But exercise is one of the most potent ways to bolster your immune system and protect you from viruses, colds, and much more.
The pandemic and all the lockdowns that have come with it have actually made this worse when people need physical activity the most. Being stuck indoors or in the office simply offers very little protection to external threats, compared to someone who lives an active, outdoor lifestyle.
So unless a household was already very fitness-focused in the first place and was on a regimented training program, their activity levels have probably collectively declined since this time last year. Partly due to working longer hours, partly due to gyms closing, partly due to being told to stay indoors.
This is bad news. Why?
Well, this study, for instance, reported that moderate-intensity exercise provided real protection against respiratory infections:
“The immune system is influenced acutely, and to a lesser extent chronically, by exercise. Epidemiological and experimental data suggest that moderate exercise enhances immunosurveillance and host protection from upper respiratory tract infection.”
So exercise evidently offers long-term benefits in terms of both stress-reduction, and also immune system protection (although this tends to be more short-term according to the above study). Sounds like a pretty good deal, doesn’t it? Another benefit that I personally love, is that it tends to improve your body composition favorably.
Again, the focus in the above study was a moderate-intensity exercise in endurance athletes, so perhaps HIIT may not be the best option for your immune system. But further research is likely required to determine this.
There’s a lot of compelling reasons to look at incorporating exercise into your weekly routine, and all of these have the potential to improve your life.
From work/life balance to mental health, to stress levels, to protection against a variety of illnesses. The benefits are strong. If your work life is stressing you out, there are time-efficient exercise options to look into, with even brief outdoor walks being proven to enhance productivity and focus.
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