Most of us run around each day with a million things on our minds. So working out seems like a great way to beat that stress. But is it possible that this could actually be harmful?
True, there are proven stress-relieving benefits of exercise, the most well known being the release of mood-boosting endorphins. Yet, oftentimes, we show up to the workout, but we don’t really show up. We might be at the gym, but really, we're just in our heads. Thoughts about a fight with a friend and our to-do list run rampant.
Working out in this state can hurt us. When we experience "stress" (any excessive mental activity, regardless of whether they are negative, neutral or positive thoughts), this places our nervous system in "fight or flight" mode.
This “survival mode” causes our body to protect itself. Our joints lock up. Our muscles tighten. Our breathing gets shallow. Our body becomes more vulnerable to pain. The end result? This creates a vicious cycle of tricking the body into thinking we are even more stressed! We become tighter, stiffer and less able to access our strength!
Fortunately, there is something simple you can do to reap those stress-relieving benefits of exercise - AND walk away more flexible and stronger! The #1 way to do this is to practice diaphragmatic breathing as a warm-up. Don’t skip it either - it will boost the effectiveness of your workout!
Breathing properly literally activates our vagus nerve which lowers that "fight or flight" stress response. This means our body is no longer locking up our joints/muscles to protect us! Plus, it loosens the spine and increases core strength through the expansion and contraction of the rib cage! Lastly, it facilitates mindfulness so you can get those stressful thoughts out of your head!
To breathe properly: when you inhale your stomach should expand, and when you exhale, your stomach should “deflate” and flatten. Avoid breathing from the chest!
So, next time you head to the gym, take a deep breathe. Trust me, your workout will not only feel easier but you will feel stronger and more flexible!