New Research Links Stress Management and Exercise

Whether you notice the symptoms or not, stress is something our bodies deal with on a daily basis. Stress is the body’s way of reacting to harmful situations that are either real or perceived. The stress response, or “fight-or-flight”, is a chemical reaction in the body that allows you to act in a way that prevents injury. During stress response, the body prepares itself and breathing quickens, heart rate increases, blood pressure rises and muscles tighten. New research on exercise and stress management supports the “cross-stressor adaptation hypothesis,” the idea that adapting to one form of stress confers protection from other forms of stress.

What are the Symptoms and Long-term Consequences of Stress?

Stress means different things for different people and symptoms can vary widely from feeling overwhelmed and having low energy, to nervous behaviors and changes in appetite. Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress response, but long-term chronic stress can affect physical health. WebMD lists long-term consequences of stress:  

  • Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety;
  • Obesity and other eating disorders;
  • Gastrointestinal problems;
  • Sexual dysfunction;
  • Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

The Study

Exercise has wide-ranging effects throughout the body including well-known mood-boosting benefits. Recently, it’s been debated whether exercise just makes you feel better about stress or if can directly fight some of the physiological effects of stress, like inflammation and heightened risk of heart disease. A recently-published German study zeros in on the heart’s response to stress. Researchers recruited 61 students, half of whom completed a 20-week exercise program right before the students’ exam period. They then used heart-rate variability, a physiological measure that refers to slight variations in the time between successive heartbeats. When researchers measured heart rhythms for 36 hours during the exam period, the students who completed the exercise program had heart-rate variability, indicating less stress response.

Why Are These Results Significant?

How exercise affects the body’s response to real-world stressors has been a very controversial topic for researchers and previous studies have produced conflicting results. Strengths of the new study include the fact that the exams were likely far more stressful than mild stressors used in lab-based studies. In addition, the 20-week exercise program was significantly longer than previous studies. The study further adds to the growing evidence that stress management may be one of the key links between exercise and lower rates of heart disease. Long-term, chronic stress is especially concerning to chiropractic physicians because the American Heart Association (AHA) reports heart disease and stroke are the number one and number four killers in the U.S.

Chiropractic Care Can Help

Holistic chiropractic care can be aligned with exercise to maximize full-body wellness and performance. Proper mechanics and muscle function are necessary for proper movement. Maintaining an overall heart-healthy dietary pattern, chiropractic care and regular exercise are essential for combating two of the nation’s biggest killers. Make an appointment with us today at www.carolinaactivehealth.com/contact-us so we can help you live a healthy life and be active!