The mental and physical benefits of exercising: Endorphins, reduce stress

·Editor-in-Chief, Lifestyle
·4-min read
(PHOTO: Getty Images)
(PHOTO: Getty Images)

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Pandemic burnout is a real thing. For The Wellness Edit series, we’ll be sharing articles that help readers deal with stress, cope with burnout by creating awareness and hopefully, inspiring others.

Stress can creep up on us in many forms, and the mental symptoms can vary from worrying and insomnia to irritability and even panic.

In addition, mental stress can lead to physical symptoms such as tensed muscles, neck, back pain, headaches and more. 

Ms Mira Zaman, Exercise Experience Coach for Virgin Active Fitness Clubs, Singapore. (PHOTO: Virgin Active)
Ms Mira Zaman, Exercise Experience Coach for Virgin Active Fitness Clubs, Singapore. (PHOTO: Virgin Active)

Our body's response to stress can be so critical that it produces even more stress. When our mind and body correlate the stress signals, it can create a serious loop of anxiety.

To combat this unhealthy loop, we can turn to exercise. Many studies have shown that when we exercise regularly, our body releases a natural chemical called endorphins, which can lift our moods and contribute to lower rates of depression. 

Endorphins react with our brain's receptors that help reduce perceived stress and pain. That is why a "runner's high" is often associated with that feeling after a burst of endorphins.

How much exercise is good for you?

Ms Mira Zaman, Exercise Experience Coach for Virgin Active Fitness Clubs, Singapore, agrees that exercising, in general, helps us release endorphins which allows your brain to reduce stress and improve your mood. "Though endorphins' main job is to inhibit pain signals in your body, they also produce euphoria! It makes you feel happier instantly, and the effect lasts a reasonable amount of time," she adds.

Virgin Active Holland Village. (PHOTO: Virgin Active)
Virgin Active Holland Village. (PHOTO: Virgin Active)

Zaman recommends we exercise at least two to three times a week. She suggests we "start with lighter exercises; however, the idea is to create consistency. That way, your body can remember and adapt to the intensity (especially in the beginning) and then slowly transition to making it a habit and then a way of life. You will find the joy (though it is the hardest at the start!) and won't feel like it's a chore."

Mr Mitchell Soh, co-owner of Body Fit Training (BFT) One North gym, shares the same sentiment. "A novice gym-goer can start exercising two to three times a week. However, after a few weeks or so, they should increase the frequency to three to four times a week to achieve the full benefits of exercising. Aside from frequency, the training intensity should also be progressively increased to allow a sustainable way of exercising for the longer term."

L to R: David Chen, Mitchell Soh and Ricky Willianto. (PHOTO: Body Fit Training One North)
L to R: David Chen, Mitchell Soh and Ricky Willianto. (PHOTO: Body Fit Training One North)

Some examples of moderate exercises that help boost endorphins are jogging, yoga, cycling, low-impact aerobics and dancing. Soh suggested that busy individuals who can only find time to exercise at home can try circuit training exercises such as burpees, squats, push-ups, and high-knees.

"At BFT One North, there is a larger variety of strength and conditioning workouts who want an extremely effective and efficient workout, scientifically proven for reducing fat and creating lean muscle. Besides having a workout partner to egg you on, highly accredited trainers will also ensure that you can carry out the exercise in the right form to prevent any potential injuries. Furthermore, after 50 minutes of workout, they will get to enjoy EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) for up to 24 hours; perfect for the busy individuals knowing that they are still 'burning' while at work/studies," Soh adds.

(PHOTO: Body Fit Training One North)
(PHOTO: Body Fit Training One North)

How to cool down your body after a rigorous workout

Stretching after a workout can help reduce the risk of an injury and reduce muscle tensions in your body.

"It would be good to cool down by doing some stretches. On the one hand, it can help to stretch muscle groups which might become tense and, on the other hand, allow time for your heart to calm down and allow it to move closer to your resting heartbeat," Soh advises.

"Personally, I would also have on hand a cold protein shake at the end of each exercise class so I'll get a quick protein boost for recovery. If you prefer whole foods that are great protein sources, try eggs, almonds, chicken breast and oats. However, the absorption of protein will be slower, which is why some will prefer protein shakes," Soh recommends.

On the other hand, Zaman loves iced plain water. "My other alternative would be coconut water or watermelon juice – my two favourites!" she shares.

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