Does exercise increase or decrease stress?

What comes to mind when you hear the "S-Word"?  There are many different types of stress to our body.  A few common examples are emotional, physical and chemical which more specifically can be anger, sadness, food, drinks, air quality, water quality, chemicals, allergies and YES exercise ! ! !  Exercise takes time and effort, so let's make sure it is actually paying off! 

When is exercise BENEFICIAL and when is it STRESSFUL?

Picture a giant glass and start to fill it up with the various stressors in your life - job, responsibilities, certain foods, alcohol, allergies, family, etc.  (Not that these are bad, they are just stress).  Picture each one a different color to help with the visual.  Once that glass is full and then overflows we experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, rashes, sneezing, coughing, pain, etc.  This is when we are more likely to get the flu, snap at someone we care about or make a poor decision.  Research has shown that all stressors are the same to your body, it does not know the difference.  We can only handle so much stress before the system breaks down, which looks different for each individual.  Its not one item specifically that causes the break-down, but rather the accumulation.  Which is good news, because it is easy to fix!

When I visited Hawaii in November I saw this first hand.  Usually coffee and alcohol are stressors to my body, also too much exercise and certain foods.  But... I had eliminated the stressors associated with life responsiblities and work - making room for others.  Hearing the ocean when I was sleeping at night, good company and doing activities I enjoyed every day lowered my stress levels, helping keep the glass half full.  Are you able to picture the mad scientist mixing the various potions inside my body and balancing the levels?!?  (Add some purple, take away some blue...) That's chemistry and the colors are beautiful like the rainbows I saw in Hawaii.  Our bodies are incredible!

We have to keep a balance in life of pleasures and stresses.  Exercise is beneficial when other parts of life are in good balance.  If you are over-stressed, exercise can cause more damage than good even if you cannot see or feel it immediately.  It can increase inflammation levels (physical pain), tax our immune system (think flu) and make us tired amongst other problems.

We don't need to go to Hawaii to be healthier, we can do it right here at home.  Take a look at your life and choose an area to have a chemistry experiment with this year.  Even if it is small!  Getting a little extra sleep/meditation, eating healthier, spending time with people you like or adding enjoyable activities/music can make a big difference in stress levels. 

Get to the lab and let me know how the experiement goes!  Aloha!