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Stress, pain and why exercise helps

When we encounter stressful situations our body releases hormones to help us be more receptive to react to these situations. These are hormones such as Adrenaline and Cortisol are released via our 'sympathetic nervous' system. These neurochemicals , mean our hearts beat faster, we send more oxygen through our blood to feed muscles and our brian becomes alert to the perceived danger around us. This function is a left over from when we ran with the rest of the animals on the planet as ‘Hunter Gathers'. 

When under stress from 'attack' or 'chasing' our food, we needed bursts of these hormones to help us run away from danger or fight off our attackers, these hormones gave us boosts of energy, increased our heart rate and gave us additional strength to be ready for that 'fight or flight'.Those stress hormones are unfortunately still a part of our modern metabolism, but we don’t have any animals chasing us these days. That is apart from an insistent boss who might be looking for this week's sales or reports to be completed and quickly! This can cause that similar stress reaction and we get ready to fight. 

Unfortunately, these same hormones get released and instead of running away or physically fighting we're left sitting at an office desk with these hormones flooding our system, putting our heart, gut and kidneys under massive stress.

Long term build-up of these hormones can result in both mental and physical fatigue and can even lead to depression, gut health illnesses, renal overload and manifestations of physical pain.

When we get up and exercise our bodies get a chance to counteract these hormones and allow us to return to a state of a calm.

But there's an added bonus. Again, as part of our pre-historic genes, when we physically exert ourselves our body rewards the endocrine (hormone system) system with the release of feelgood hormones. These hormones are a reward to encourage us to get used to and prepare for that 'fight or flight' response! Our ‘older -limbic’ brain thinks that this will encourage us to be stronger and faster in future!

You may have heard of the 'Runners High', this is where, Endorphin and Dopamine 'feelgood ' hormones are released into our system after on-going or heavy running exertion . This is why so many people refer to running as addictive and feel, that need to run, as it 'helps keep then sane and keeps them feeling good'. ‘Endorphin’ in particular is a natural pain killer and one of the reasons why exercise is prescribed to manage chronic pain.

So we can take it that high intensity exercise like; running, boxercise, aerobics and circuit training are great endorphin and dopamine releasers, there are other feel good hormones associated with exercising in a group scenario that have the added benefits in dealing with stress.
That’s, 'oxytocin', the 'social hormone' , sometimes referred to as the 'Love' Hormone.. This is the hormone released when we see others helping others, when we touch each other or even look at a small child. Its all about social bonding

Just interacting positively with others causes an oxytocin release and decreases Cortisol (that toxic stress hormone) in the system. So team sports or even training with someone else has a multiplier effect in dealing with stress and making you feel good about yourself and those around you.

Another study by the American Chemical Society, showed that exercising outside, should positive effects on self-reported mental wellbeing immediately following exercise in nature which are not seen following the same exercise indoors across 833 participants. So high intensity, group and outside all add to the high of exercise.

In medical research studies by the American Journal of Physiology, they've shown that the big feelgood hormone 'dopamine' , (the hormone associated with reducing anxiety/blood pressure and depression) is released during even mild levels of exercise. This has the added benefit of decreasing inflammation and reducing oxidative stress in the kidneys and adding to an overall sense of well-being.

As we all vary in our feelings about interacting with others or don't like the cold, might be a bit overweight or not into too much sweating , the best exercise is the one you start and can stick with. Walking, football, circuit training, dancing, cycling, running, Tai Chi, yoga, it doesn't matter what you do,  all have positive effects on feeling good and reducing pain.

In our Pain & Movement Clinic in Stillorgan, we help with education and treatments with those suffering from body pain that is stress induced, we can offer a process of Bodywork Psychotherapy, Physiotherapy and Nutritional advice to help manage the impact Stress has on the Physical Body, Mind and Gut . Our aim is to get you moving, often and pain free.

For More information contact us on 01- 2140061 or

OneBody is a Pain & Movement Specialist Clinic

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