Stress is associated with a variety of chronic health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and more. It can come from many different sources in our everyday lives, including workload, transition periods, and relationship challenges, and too much of it can have an impact on our minds and bodies. You may notice that after a particularly challenging couple of days, your muscles are tight or you have a hard time relaxing. After an extended period of stress your waistline may start to look a bit different as well, due to increases in cortisol (a hormone released by the body as part of its “fight or flight” response). Because cortisol is our body’s response to “fight mode,” where it expects that we’ll be expending calories as if we were physically combatting our stress, hunger sets in…and so do the pounds. What’s one prescription to get our brains and bodies back in optimal shape for the long haul? Exercise.
Being active can help reduce the negative effects of stress while encouraging long-term physical and mental health. According to the Navy Physical Readiness Program Instruction, OPNAVINST 6100.1J, Sailors should participate in moderate physical activity for at least two hours and 30 minutes per week, and should strength train all major muscle groups at least twice per week. However, when balancing stressful and busy schedules, many individuals tend to create excuses for not exercising—which become habits. To help you get in top shape, here are three tips to counter common barriers to adopting and maintaining a regular physical fitness regime:
- Not enough time? Break it up! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, time is the number one cited reason for not exercising regularly. While continuous physical activity—i.e. 50 minutes of cardio three times per week—is ideal, that may sound overwhelming when there already doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. To help you build up to that goal, make time for your exercise by breaking it up into shorter bursts. Go for a 20 minute run around your building or around the deck at lunch, or do a few sets of lunges each hour in your workspace to get started. Even by taking the stairs throughout the day you’re taking steps toward a healthier way of life.
- Build momentum for motivation. You may have wanted to get fit for a while, but don’t know where to start. Try “unplugging,” giving yourself 15 minutes each day to get away from your smart phone, computer, tablet or TV screen. Use that screen-free time to stretch or perform simple body weight exercises around the house or your living quarters. For added motivation and accountability, invite a friend to exercise with you and develop a regular routine that is convenient for you both.
- Find something you enjoy doing. If fitness doesn’t seem accessible to you—whether it’s a matter of finding a gym or knowing how to perform certain activities—switch up your strategy. Try a group activity like yoga, which can burn up to 500 calories per hour and help you refocus your thoughts (two for one!). Your local installation may offer yoga and other group fitness classes, easing your apprehension about going to an unfamiliar (or expensive) fitness center. You can get a list of local offerings by visiting navy.mil. And remember, the gym isn’t the only place to exercise! You’ll be surprised by how many common items there are in your work space to help you expand or get the most out of your workouts.
Simple, everyday adjustments to get more active can yield big returns. Exercise increases production of the brain’s feel-good neuro-transmitters called endorphins, which can play a vital role in navigating stress. Routine physical activity can also lessen your chance of depression and may improve your sleep habits. Remember, May is both Physical Fitness Month and Mental Health Month—and now is the perfect time to stop the excuses and start moving to benefit your health from the inside out!