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Stress and Fitness:  Work IT Out!

In a fast paced world where the fine line of work and relaxation has been blurred with wireless technology and the development of the home office, workers as well as families have become more and more susceptible to stress-related illnesses.  Stress is a natural element of our behavior and our body handles stress by injecting “stress hormones” into our bloodstream when we are feeling the burden of work, financial pains, spousal military deployments, and so many other “stressors” to name. 

Physiologically, stress wreaks havoc on the body today.  The same thing happens to your body when you are stressed at work or family issue as it does when you are in an emergent fight or flight situation.  However, when in an emergency usually you are able to physically exert yourself to help

relieve the stress hormones that are rushing into your bloodstream that some say is equivalent to 5-6 Red Bulls!  In a nutshell, Adrenaline Cortisol are some of the stress hormones that affect our response to a stressful situation, but can also affect our health long term if not dealt with properly.  When at a home office or cubical during work, it is difficult to exert yourself physically in order to reduce these stress hormones.  Don’t get me wrong, there are good things that come out of stress hormones like getting pumped up for a presentation or competition or the rush of adrenaline before a fitness test.  These can help you perform better. 

What Can You Do Now?   To reduce stress our body is wired to burn it off.  If you can go for a quick walk, stay away from caffeine and sugar for a few hours, and take some deep breaths, then you will come back less stressed and ready to focus on the task at hand.

Stress Busters – A Three Side Attack:  If your day is typically stressful at work, home, or dealing loved ones who are ill, you need a full broad-side attack on stress OR you will feel the burn that stress can leave.  By not dealing with stress, you are susceptible to a damaged immune system, cardio-respiratory distress, increase body fat, increase blood sugar, and even acne.  Here are the best ways to handle stress:

1)      Exercise Reduces Stress – By far, this is the best remedy to fighting a stressful day.  Many like to exercise after work.  This is a great way to burn off the stress even if it is as simple as a 20 minute walk before or after dinner.  However, exercise also causes a temporary increase in cortisol which can leave you a bit jittery if you are trying to go to sleep with an hour or two of exercising.  So, if you exercise in the evening, arrange it that you will have 3-4 hours before you are trying to fall asleep for a more restful sleep.  *Note – your cortisol levels will actually be lower in a few hours IF you exercise than if you decide to skip working out. 

2)      Diet – Where have you heard this before – “proper exercise and diet.”  Well it helps with stress too!   Foods rich in anti-oxidants like many fruits and vegetables are your best bet for snack foods and should make up a larger percentage of your overall meal preparation.  Limit foods high in sugar and drinks high in caffeine in order to have a more relaxing evening prior to sleeping.

3)      Breathe - When you feel that stressful moment (jittery, butterflies in the stomach, anxiety), take 1 min and breathe.  DEEPLY.  You should get about 3-4 full breath cycles in this one minute period.  INHALE:  Breathe in through your nose - full top / bottom lungs of air. Pause 3-5 seconds.  EXHALE:  Breathe out through your mouth until you are completely out of air.  This exhale should take you about 10 seconds to do so do it slowly.  Just 1-2 minutes of this will help you relax and feel more focused, less jittery, and less stressed prior to a stressful event or at the end of a stressful day.

 4)      Sleep:  People who exercise actually sleep better than those who do not.  Some people with insomnia also have high levels of cortisol in their blood stream when trying to fall asleep.  See the Importance of Sleep article for more tips on successful sleep and napping.  But regardless of diet and exercise, if you are not getting enough sleep / rest, you will not handle stress very well and succumb to the side effects of a stressed out life.

See related articles for more pointers on exercise, diet, and sleep. 



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Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Fitness eBook store and the Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at



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Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness (Book / DVD)
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Veteran's Fitness - Baby Boomer and a Flat Stomach

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