A healthy mind in a healthy body

‘Mans Sana in Corpore Sano’

At CP+R we believe your psychological health is just as important as your physiological health, which is why we ask about your stress levels during our screening process at the start of each session.

What is stress?

Stress can be defined as a feeling of being unable to cope due to the demands of a situation, which threatens to exceed the resources of an individual. It can impact your emotional, physical and behavioural wellbeing.

Causes of stress

Feelings of stress can be elicited by any number of factors and are personal to the individual. Common causes include:

  • Work pressure
  • Health concerns/ illness
  • Financial struggles
  • Family
  • Relationship concerns
  • Big unexpected changes
  • Bereavement
  • Addictions
  • An accumulation of stressors

Effects on your body

Your body’s initial response to stressors is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. The stressor activates what is known as the HPA axis. Your hypothalamus is triggered to release the hormone Corticotrophin (CRH), which then acts on the pituitary gland to release the Adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH), which is carried by the blood to the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands then release the stress hormones Cortisol, Adrenaline and Noradrenaline. The following physical effects will occur as a result:

  • The brain, muscles and limbs receive more blood
  • You react instinctively rather than thinking beforehand
  • Heart rate increases
  • Blood pressure rises
  • Liver releases glucose for energy
  • Muscles tense for action
  • Digestion decreases, which can cause nausea
  • Immune system response is suppressed

Of course, if we are faced with a real life-threatening situation then the ‘fight or flight’ response is vital to ensure our survival, however, when this becomes a chronic state of being, it can have damaging effects, both physiologically and psychologically, such as:

  • Risk of hypertension, leading to hypertrophy of the left ventricle, damage to the vessels and plaque formation
  • Higher risk of infections or susceptibility to colds and viruses
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Low libido
  • Nausea
  • Tendency to engage in risky behaviours using alcohol, drugs and unhealthy foods in order to cope
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Anxiety
  • Low mood/ depression

4 ways exercise reduces stress

  1. Exercise counteracts the damaging effects that stress can cause. Performing regular exercise reduces the HPA axis reactivity, therefore calming your ‘fight or flight’ response.
  2. Over time, your risk of coronary heart disease decreases as your heart muscle becomes stronger, so can pump less with the same output, therefore reducing blood pressure and increasing your ability to pump more oxygen-rich blood to your body, and increasing your body’s ability to utilise oxygen.
  3. Exercise also increases the body’s ability to circulate white blood cells (immune system cells) in order to detect and fight illness.
  4. When you exercise, chemicals called endorphins are released. They interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, comparable to the effects of morphine, hence the high you may feel post-training, inducing a happier state of being. The distraction or mental “time out” from the stressor that exercise achieves has also been shown to lower anxiety levels.

It is important to note that we set a training heart rate zone so that you do not over exert the heart as over exercising (training in above your safe heart rate) can actually trigger the HPA axis, causing more harm than good.

If you feel affected by stress and would like to speak to someone about this, then please make your CES aware and they will liaise with the clinical nurse who can discuss this further with you.

For additional support and information, please see the links below.