Stress can play a powerful role in your workouts, whether you want it to or not. It’s true that exercise is generally a great way to relieve stress. Too much stress, however, reduces your ability to complete a successful workout. Mitigating the stress in your life is easier said than done, but it’s worth the effort when it leads to better health.
Stress is a complex reaction in our bodies that results in a range of primarily negative responses in your habits and performance, especially when the stress is chronic.
When you plan out how you want your next stage of fitness to progress, it’s important to keep in mind what will be going on in your life in the coming weeks and months. Stress has been shown to not only make you less likely to go to the gym, it can actually hinder your workout results.
It’s easy to see how sudden meetings, an important project, family matters and other unpredictable events can play havoc with your daily routine. The same applies to just how likely you are to hit the gym when things aren’t going smoothly.
On top of that, a study published in one of the American Medical Association’s journals, JAMA Psychiatry, found that the cortisol our bodies release in reaction to stress can actually hamper our ability to remember things, like where your car keys are or that it’s time to go for a jog.
What may come as more of a surprise is the fact that stress absolutely holds back your physical performance, both during your workout and afterwards.
One study, published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, found that when your mind is stressed out, what the researchers call “cognitive fatigue,” you don’t exercise as well. By comparing the times of runners from stressed and unstressed groups, the researchers found a link between stress and lowered performance. As stated in their study, “cognitive fatigue increased the perception of exertion,” i.e., when you’re stressed, you think you exercising harder than you really are.
Stress doesn’t just play mind games, though; your body reacts to the benefits of exercise less efficiently when you’re stressed. As one study showed in the Journal of Strength Conditioning Research, participants who were stressed while working out reported feeling more sore and more tired later on. To quote the study, “In all analyses, higher stress was associated with worse recovery.”
While all this may seem like it’s only stressing you out more, exercise is still a great way to relieve stress. It can even help prevent stress’ nasty habit of increasing the age of the cells in our bodies. Core, strength and cardio exercises should all stay on your schedule. You may want to make special consideration of just how stressed you are, though.
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