Exercise Physiologist & Health Coach
Exercise can help reduce the stress that ails you
Stress carries a lot of baggage. Frayed nerves. Upset stomach. Rapid heartbeat. Sleeplessness. The list goes on.
Unless you’re a Buddhist monk in deep meditation, chances are that stress is a frequent, and sometimes unwelcome, companion in your life, no matter what your age. But adults age 55 and older may experience stress differently, according to Rhonda Zonoozi, exercise physiologist and certified health and wellness coach at the Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing.
“The body’s natural defenses against stress tend to slow down with age,” Zonoozi says.
Worries over retirement, dwindling finances, loss of independence, declining health – our own health or a loved one’s health – are common worries faced by seniors. Zonoozi primarily helps older adults and sees the downside of too much stress.
“As we age, our brains lose some of their ability to regulate hormone levels,” she says. “Older adults who feel stressed tend to produce larger amounts of stress hormones, and over time that can lead to health problems.”
But don’t worry. Be happy because there are many ways to de-stress, including one of Zonoozi’s favorites: a thing called exercise.
We’ve heard a million times that regular exercise is important for our overall health, but it’s also a proven way to keep the stress demons from your door. Research backs it up: A 2013 Princeton University study found that mice who exercised frequently were less anxious in stressful situations than their more sedentary neighbors.
Other studies have shown that exercise can boost one’s mood by stimulating production of “feel-good” neurotransmitters such as dopamine and endorphins.
“These neurotransmitters are like natural antidepressants,” Zonoozi says. “Antidepressant medications can take several weeks to kick in, but you can experience the relaxing effects of a 30-minute walk almost immediately.”
Exercise also helps distract us from our stressors by providing something else to focus on. Exercise may reduce muscle tension and the secretion of cortisol, known as the “stress hormone.” Regular exercisers tend to react and recover more effectively in highly stressful situations.
“This acute stress response pumps up the heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate, which prepares us to fight or flee,” Zonoozi says.
One more thing to know: exercisers tend to sleep better. You snooze. You lose your stress.
From yoga, to walking, to water aerobics, there are several physical activities that can help reduce our stress. Other techniques may include deep breathing, meditation and journaling.
“It’s much better to work out, than to stress out,” Zonoozi says.
(Originally published April 14, 2017; last updated Jan. 12, 2019.)