15 January 2009

The Aerobic Antidote

"The more one exercises, the milder the physiological response to stress."

From traffic jams to a death in the family, the stresses of life assault one's calm, harry the soul and one's well-being. One relaxation methos is to collapse in an armchair; another; to turn to Scotch or Valium. A better way to unwind is exercise.

Runners, typically, swear their sport boosts energy levels and improves frame of mind. Research breaks them up. Studies confirm that regular aerobic exercise - where heart rate stays elevated to 70 percent of maximum for twenty to thirty minutes at least three times a week - not only improves one's physiological state by conditioning the heart and lowering blood pressure but also relieves depression and fatigue.

One reason for these boons to physical as weel as psychological well-being may be the calming effect of exercise has on muscle tension. According to research at the University of Southern California, physical activity has the same, and sometimes an even greater, effect on relieving muscular tension as a tranquilizer.

Strenous exercise - as well stress and fear - fling the body into "fight for flight" readiness: muscles tense and hormones such as adrenaline cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. But the more one exercises, the milder the physiological responce to stress; as the body learns to react less intensely it begins to return to normal more quickly.

"Aerobic fitness drastically reduces one's physiological to stress," saya David Holmes, Ph. D., a University of Kansas at Lawrence psychologist trained in exercise physiology. "Aerobic fitness onot only lowers resting heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension; but the aerobically fit person is more relaxed and less prone to illness under stress."

Exercise also stimulates the production of endorphins, hormones that provide an intense workout's pleasurable afterglow. Says Florida State University's Bruce W. Tuckman, Ph.D., "Any form of frequently repeated aerobic exercise is positve addiction." The mental satisfaction and relief of fulfilling this requirements is an important factor in the relaxation equation.

Until recently, it was thought that only rhythmic aerobic activities, such as biking, running and swimming, reduced tension. But according to James M. Rippie, M.D., director of Massachusetts Medical School, even casual walking for fortyminutes can significantly reduce blood pressure, tension, and anxiety.

Eating, taking a shower, sitting quietly in an armchair, or listening to relaxation tapes have been shown to signigicantly reduce tension. All provide an important time-out from life's hassles, a potentially crucial factor in tendion reduction, says William P. Morgan, Ed.D., a consin-Madison. Likewise, softball, voleyball, or bowling can also provide a valuable opportunity to unwind but won't condition one's body. Weight lifting and Nautilus-type exercises - so called "anaerobic" activities - on the other hand won't help one relax. "Anaerobic exercise does not have any of the positive effects of aerobic exercise," states Holmes. "In fact, it's very deleterious."

High-adventure sports such as hang gliding, white-water rafting, and mountain climbing may promote relaxation (assuming a person feels in control) because they force a person to focus fully on what she's doing. Dr. Rippe speculates that these sports may be stressful to some people while relaxing to others.

Competitive sports have the same double edge. Playing a hard game of tennis or racquetball will help condition the body; but if a person is tense about winning or upset about losing it, it won't promote relaxation.

"It all depends on how you respond to competition," says Dr. Rippe. "Although there's no specific data on this , the vast majority of recreational athletes get more relaxation out of aerobic activities than competitive ones."

If relaxation is your goal, Dr. Rippe recommends sticking to rhythmic aerobic sports, e.g., aerobic dance, cycling, swimming, running.

"Exercise is a wonderful way to relieve tension and anxiety. But there's more than one way of doing it," he says. To choose the best way, one must like the sport, look forward to it, and most important, at the end of it, to feel relaxed.
(by John Etra from A Little Piece of Quiet)

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