The Hidden Truth About Exercise and Stress
Stress is stress.
Sure it takes different forms, but they all go in to the same ‘stress bucket’ – and once that bucket’s full, it starts to overflow.
Let’s talk about what this means.
When you’ve got a tight work deadline… that’s stress. When you’ve got a cold… that’s stress. When you get an unexpected bill… that’s stress. When you have a big night out drinking… that’s stress. And when you exercise… yep… you better believe that’s stress too.
Now sure, some forms of stress can be positive (this is a special type of stress called ‘eustress’) – but they all end up going in to this one big bucket. A bucket full of deadlines and diseases and deadlifts. And when that bucket is full, things start to go wrong.
You get sick.
You get injured.
You argue with the people you love.
You become unhappy.
As you can see, the effect of too much stress… is more stress! And so the vicious cycle goes.
The problem here is that people try to cram as much as they can into this bucket. They simultaneously pour in drinking and exercise and sickness and deadlines, not realising that if you’re experiencing chronic stress in one area, you have to adjust the others to make room in the bucket. Got a cold? Maybe a good idea to avoid that big night out or a particularly demanding exercise session. Adjust your stressors to ensure you’re not overfilling the bucket.
Research published in Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise titled “Psychological stress impairs short-term muscular recovery from resistance exercise” examined the effects of psychological stress on the ability to recover from exercise. In the research, participants had their strength tested. This test was then repeated at various times after the initial test. The findings revealed that those participants who were rated as the most stressed (using a stress questionnaire) had the lowest recovery rates – showing less strength in the subsequent tests than their more ‘chilled’ peers.
Effectively, what this tells us is that the ability to recover from one type of stress is dependant on the presence of other types of stress. Multiple forms of stress, one bucket to store it all. Stress is stress.
Of course, this isn’t just about not overfilling the bucket – it’s also about coming up with some strategies to empty the bucket so we can keep pouring the (preferably good) stress in.
So how can we empty this bucket? How can we drain away the stress (particularly the bad stress), so we can put in more of the good stuff – like the positive ‘eustress’ from exercise?
There are plenty of strategies.
- Sleep is one of the highest on the list – the most effective way to drain the bucket and cope with stress. Aim for eight hours a night.
- Then we can look at diet, particularly the ratios of omega 3s to 6s in the food you eat.
- Using deload weeks and deload days if you consistently exercise at a high intensity.
- Take steps to choose the types of exercise that make it a positive experience.
- The use of some form of mindfullness or meditation – white space between the stresses you cram in to your life.
- Giving your body time to recover from injury.
- Taking steps to promote recovery after an exercise session.
- Following balanced exercise programming that takes your individual needs and day-to-day factors in to account.
By managing the stresses we place on our body, and taking advantages of strategies to reduce stress, we can break the cycle of stress and live healthier, happier and more achievement filled lives.
Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.