We’ve all heard the words and know what they mean, but do you know the implications of stress to your body? Do you really know why you should reduce chronic stress?

In 1936, Hans Selye coined the term GAS, which stands for General Adaptation Syndrome (this is not what your partner has after a chili night, although that can create its own kind of stress).  He described 3 phases that the body goes through in response to stress.

Phase I – Alarm phase: This is where the initial stress happens and your body goes into a fight or flight mode, secreting adrenaline (and later on the stress hormone cortisol).  You know this feeling: it’s what happens when you narrowly missed hitting someone with your car; or your boss looks unhappy and calls you into her office.  Your heart is pounding, you break into a sweat, and you breathe more quickly but also more shallowly.  This alarm phase is all about the adrenaline rush.

Phase II – Resistance phase: Here your body tries to adapt to or resist the stress. How your body tries to resist the stress depends on the nature of the stress.  For example, if the stress was that you were starving, your body will try to resist the stress and conserve energy by lowering your metabolism.

Phase III – Exhaustion phase:  By now, the stress has been going on for a long time. This is the stage where people are physically tired, their blood pressure may be either low or high or unstable, prolonged cortisol production is causing belly weight gain, sleep is poor, and their bodies are susceptible to infections and / or slow to fight them off.

Some stress is unavoidable, and in some instances even beneficial (for example, athletic performance); but imagine chronic stress like rust eating away at your car. That little patch of rust doesn’t seem like much at first; but every day that it’s there, it eats a bigger hole until you have to take your car in for major bodywork or to replace it. Unfortunately our bodies aren’t so replaceable, and so we must deal with that stress while it’s a small rust spot, before the onset of degenerative diseases like diabetes, heart diseases and cancer tell us that we need major bodywork.

Exercise to the Rescue!

Regular exercise has been shown to decrease the incidence of all these maladies, and help you cope with stress more easily. Having said that, I can just hear the chorus of “I don’t have time.” This is the most common reason why people don’t exercise. Loving and caring for yourself takes time, but it’s a worthwhile investment in yourself; and for parents, an excellent example to set for your children.

4 Tips to Get Going

Mindset. Try to view exercise as a daily habit just as surely as you would brush your teeth. The question is not “am I going to exercise today?” but “when am I going to exercise today?”

Make time. Cut back on TV / internet time, take a brisk walk on your lunch hour, get up a bit earlier to exercise before work, incorporate exercise into things you are already doing, like walking the kids to school, walking the dog, running up the stairs instead of taking the elevator. Every little bit counts!

Choose fun! Pick an activity you enjoy, and you’re more likely to keep on doing it; and if it’s fun, it’s just that much more of a stress buster. Win-win! Play hockey or ultimate frisbee, belly dance, take up karate – whatever you like to do.

Squeeze play. Squeeze some play into your day.  Have a race to the café or the playground.  Swing on the monkey bars.  Have a pickup baseball or soccer game. Play tag or hide and seek. Exercise doesn’t have to be all seriousness.

Learn What Relaxation Really Feels Like

At least once per week, a great addition to your physical activity regimen would be a purely relaxation type of exercise, like yoga, tai chi, deep breathing exercises, or meditation. That way you will learn how to enter a more relaxed state, and it will be more obvious when your body is feeling stressed out.

Most Common Reason Number Two for Not Exercising is …

“I don’t have the energy.” The paradoxical thing about exercise is that, by investing the energy in it, you actually have MORE energy afterward, because of the stress released and metabolism improved it provides!

You know that you need to weigh out the risk / benefit ratio for any investment. Investing one hour per day of your time can prevent degenerative diseases; lower your blood pressure and cholesterol without medication; improve your sleep, immune system and skin; help you lose weight; and give you increased energy. What a small investment for such enormous health returns!