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The Science of Stress and How Exercise Can Help

The Science of Stress and How Exercise Can Help

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April is Stress Awareness Month. We asked our resident Personal Trainer and workplace wellness guru Chris Pinner to talk to us on the HBC Magazine about the role fitness can play in helping combat stress. Enjoy…

Stress in the workplace costs Great Britain over £5 billion a year. In the US, 95% of HR leaders admit employee burnout sabotaging retention.

On a personal level, stress can cost careers, relationships and lives.
But what is stress, and how can you stop it costing you?

What is stress?

Stress is primarily a physical response. Emotional stress, like that we experience at work, becomes physiological stress because our body has only one response. Stress plays out in our autonomic nervous system – our control system acting largely unconsciously to regulate bodily functions. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals (e.g. adrenaline, cortisol) to prepare for action.

Stress can be good. In The Upside of Stress, Standford Pyschologist says that stress can, in fact, make us stronger, smarter, and happier. Experiencing stress is a sign you care.

But stress can be bad. Even if you love your job, long hours and continuously striving for better in the fast-paced [industry] can be too much. Experiencing stress for long periods can be detrimental to our health (e.g. hypertension / high blood pressure, imbalanced hormone and energy levels and poor brain function as blood flows to muscles). Stress over a long period of time can cause burn-out.

What causes stress?

In the UK, one survey found “increased workload” to be the main driver behind mental health issues in the workplace, with 38% of workers citing that factor. In the US, another study found “unreasonable workload” (32%) came in second to “unfair compensation” (41%).

So How Can You Beat Stress?

If you can, influence your company culture to address the root causes of stress. If fair compensation, reduced workload and overtime are the problem, then the long-term solution starts there. But addressing root causes can take time. What if you are feeling stressed now?

Movement and nutrition can help. Beyond resilience training and mental health first aid, stress intervention initiatives based on movement and nutrition can have a big impact.

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Beat Stress with Movement

Exercise is recognised by the brain as a moment of stress.

The physiological symptoms (e.g. higher heart rate, faster breathing) are interpreted by your brain as fight or flight necessities, which then releases proteins and endorphins to help minimize the discomfort and block pain.
Movement helps then, because you experience the stress-reducing physiology without psychological stress.
Research shows this to be the case. As an example, one study found people who exercise experienced around a 20% reduction ‘poor’ mental health days. The researchers also found that physically active people feels as good as those who don’t but earn about $25,000 a year more.


What Now?

Take 20mins for yourself and your health. In her book “The first 20 minutes”, Gretchen Reynolds outlines how most of the health benefits from movement (if you’ve been really sedentary) come quickly. You could try walking at lunch or packing some healthy snacks, just find what works for you.

If you are the type of person who works better with accountability, you can share your commitments with Chris – he will hold you accountable! Email

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