By: Andrew Wolf, M.S. ED Exercise Physiologist
Stress is a word with all sorts of negative connotations. Long hours at work, business travel, demanding schedules all conjure this amorphous idea of stress and how it is deleterious to our long term health. But here is something that you may not have thought of, stress is one of the key components that make really important things happen in your body. In fact, without some stress our ability to cope with our internal and external environments can become highly compromised.
But let’s be clear about stress, there is the stress of a deadline and then there is the stress of 45 minutes on the treadmill. How are they different? Well the stress of a deadline stimulates a fight or flight response and causes you to mobilize a remarkable amount of carbohydrate and fat. Your body then dumps that into the bloodstream so you can fight or flight. This mismatch between lots of fuel and sitting at a desk is the essence of what I call negative stress. When you are working out you have that same response that makes fuel more available but you are using that fuel, this is the good stuff.
The other interesting thing about exercise stress is that it produces free radicals. When you are exercising you are consuming more oxygen than normal and this increase in oxygen consumption allows your body to produce more of these free radicals. Excess quantities of free radicals can cause oxidative damage associated with the development of diabetes, cancer and atherosclerotic vessel disease. But as strange as it may seem, if you are not exercising and producing some of these free radicals then your bodies inherent mechanism for dealing with stress will actually “detrain” and make you less able to deal with non-exercise stress.
This balance is known as the Re-Dox balance. It is the push and pull in your body that allows you to deal with all of the free radicals that are produced because you are a carbon based, oxygen breathing human. The bottom line is this, when you exercise you create a few more of these free radicals but you also enhance your body’s ability to quench these reactive chemicals and bring your internal environment back to homeostasis.
The trick is to not get caught up on making the exercise perfect. The real task is to not let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of moving. Yes, it may only be a 15 minute walk with the dog but any elevation in your metabolic rate provides the stimulus you need to keep up with stress.