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Top Ways to Manage Stress Through Exercise and Movement

how can i use exercise to help with stress levelsIn this lesson, we will discuss the physical dimensions of stress and some of the ways coaches can be more effective in helping clients manage their stress levels.  There are many different modes available for coaches, but this will get a coach started~

If you have ever tried to lose weight, you have heard the advice to eat less and exercise more. The same prescription can help to decrease the effects of stress in our client’s life as well.  Overall, we should encourage eating moderate amounts of food that include vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, low fat proteins and fiber; we should also decrease our intake of highly processed food and food high in sugar and fat.  Exercise builds muscle, increases lung functioning capacity, improved cardiovascular function and can trigger the release of chemicals that counteract the negative effects of stress.

How Exercise Helps You Manage Stress

Exercise maybe one of the most perfect stress management tools, yet it’s often the first thing to go when our client schedules get too busy. Because there is no deadline associated with daily exercise, it’s easy to pump exercise to the bottom of our priority list.

Or is there a deadline? According to the National Centers for Disease Control, Americans are no more fit than they were in 1990. Now, as then, only about 25% of American adults get enough exercise to achieve health benefits. Research has shown that poor health habits– Most essentially a lack of exercise and improper diet– are responsible for a significant portion of deaths from heart disease and cancer.

But stress management is only loosely tied to disease prevention in most written content. The Spencer Institute Stress Management Coach Certification, being primarily about stress, also recommends and suggests that moderate exercise may be the single most effective way to get stress under control. It seems we may be sabotaging our own stress management efforts because we think we’re too busy to get up and take a walk.  Why is this?

We know that stress can evoke the fight or flight reaction by releasing stress hormones into the body.  Furthermore, we know that exercise is designed to give a certain specific response, quick reactions, extra strength and endurance. We don’t respond to distress response by moving quickly or using our strength.  It’s almost as if we are taking advantage of this added endurance made available to us, as our bodies are all geared up with no outlet for the energy.  So, our muscle stay tense, blood pressure stays high, breathing stay shallow and cortisol and adrenaline race through the body – causing problems when the body is just reacting the way it is being programmed to react to stress.  So yes, exercise is stress.

But exercise can also change the picture, accomplishing two important things in the wake of the stress response:

Exercise allows the body to expend energy so that while a brisk walk around the block may not actually be fight or flight, to the body the message is the same. That extra energy available to your body is being used, signaling the body that we can, after exercise, return to equilibrium.

Exercise also releases chemicals like beta-endorphin, which specifically correct the effects of stress, alerting the body that the danger has passed so that the relaxation response can begin.

In other words, exercise makes the fight or “fight or flight” stress response relevant again. It lets our body respond the way It is intended to respond. Rather than sitting and fuming, you are getting up and moving.

Getting a client to get up and exercise is the real trick. We all have plenty of choices. We can get along just fine without moving very much at all. We might move from room to room in our home or from house to car to office desk and back to our car and to our house, but that’s relatively insignificant compared to the kind of day today, hard-working, on the move kind of existence humans once knew.  Clients will most likely need programmed exercise.  If you are not a NESTA Certified Personal Fitness Trainer, you may need to refer the client out for this service.

Exercising has become a lot easier in our modern lives. Resources are more widely available to help us fulfill this mission for those who really want to accomplish it. For some people, exercise is already a good habit, or is a priority to keep energy levels high and body weight under control. For others it’s the same thing as having a root canal. They do not like it, they don’t want to do it and they see absolutely no point to breaking a sweat.

Most of your clients will be somewhere in between. They know that exercise is good for them and they do it occasionally – when the mood strikes or time permits. Inconsistent exercise routines are not typically enough to accomplish long-term stress management or a means to decreasing risk of developing chronic illness. Therefore, the trick is finding an exercise plan that a client can stick with.

Even if your client is not a diehard exercise lover, they can probably find something they enjoy.  Maybe their idea of exercise is an aerobics class or maybe they think exercise as jogging, team sports or even simple calisthenics. Whatever the client is interested in is what you promote and support. Nearly all clients can find some kind of exercise that they actually enjoy enough to reap the benefits of participation.  Maybe suggesting that a client join a gym is the answer for success.  Maybe they need something more tranquil than high energy, high impact, sweaty environments – and so they may find more inspiration in a group fitness class that does yoga.

The Amazing Whole-body Effects of Exercise

Again, we all (mostly) believe that exercise is good for us.  Your client has also received that same message and we can assume that they already know that exercise will do them some good. But what does it do exactly and how can it help to relieve stress for our client? Exercise benefits the body in very specific ways. Here are some of the benefits of modern exercise.

  • Stronger muscles
  • Decrease in excess body fat
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased symptoms of depression
  • Decreased risk of osteoporosis
  • Improved quality of sleep
  • Increased mental acuity
  • Improved posture
  • Improved self-esteem/image
  • Decreased frequency of injuries later in the lifespan
  • Better flexibility
  • Increased heart and lung efficiency
  • Decreased risk of developing heart/lung disease
  • Improved circulation
  • Reduced cholesterol
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Strengthened immune system

Finding an Exercise Mode Your Client Enjoys That Releases Stress

Of course, not all types of exercise well appeal to your client but they may get some new ideas in the process of checking the possibilities out. Encourage your client to avoid the fear of trying something new, especially if they are in an exercise rut or maybe just need a little inspiration to get started.

If your client is very overweight, has a health problem or hasn’t exercised in over six months, it is important to remind them to consult their physician before beginning any exercise program.

Walking for Stress Reduction

Walking is easy for most people, it is great exercise, mostly fun and can get your client out in the fresh air – or can provide an opportunity for socializing with friends while everyone gets in shape together. Instruct clients to walk at a brisk pace for 30 to 60 minutes at least three times per week and preferably 5 to 6 times. Of course, this is based on their physical ability and any medical considerations.

Swimming Improve Stress Symptoms

Swimming is great for people who love the water, people with joint or orthopedic problems and people who have a lot of weight to lose. The water buoys the body so that joints, bones, and muscles don’t feel the impact of exercise, making injuries less likely for people who are vulnerable to impact activities. Suggest that your client gradually increase their pool time to 30 – 60 minutes of steady swimming on more than three days per week. Encourage varying strokes – freestyle, backstroke, etc.  This will help work all your client’s muscles in one workout.

Join a Fitness Club as a Stress Management Strategy

For some people, joining a gym is just the right inspiration they needed all along. A gym provides a bit of fellowship, a wide range of fitness possibilities – from aerobics classes to yoga, racquetball, and swimming. Of course, most people think of weightlifting when they picture a gym, but newer, modern gyms have the latest exercise machines, from high-tech treadmills to no-impact elliptical trainers. In most clubs, you can also find personal trainers, nutritionists, sport leagues, childcare, as well as other amenities such as massage therapists, saunas or spas, steam rooms and snack bars filled with healthy foods.

Once your client has paid for a membership, it shows a level of commitment, and they may also be more inspired to get their money’s worth. Going to the gym can be sort of a break for your client, a special treat or something to look forward to everyday.

Yoga is Proven to Reduce Stress Symptoms

Yoga is an ancient Indian method of exercise designed to address the body and mind together. Yoga involves specific postures, breathing exercises and meditation. Hatha yoga, most popular in the West, consists primarily of the postures and breathing exercises alone. You can also become a NESTA Certified Sports Yoga Instructor to help you clients.

Yoga is an excellent way for your client to add some fitness activity into their daily routine because on its own, it is sufficient to be considered exercise but it also makes the perfect complement to other fitness activities by increasing strength, flexibility, circulation, posture and overall body conditioning. Yoga is great for people who have a hard time slowing down and for people who have a hard time engaging in high impact or fast-paced exercise.

Yoga is among the more perfect stress management exercises because its original purpose was to gain control over the body and bring the body into a state of balance in order to free the body or spiritual contemplation. Yoga can help your client to master their body, so that it doesn’t master them.

Pilates is also Great for Stress Management

Pilates is an increasingly popular core strengthening routine that concentrates on strengthening and gaining control over the body’s core, or the torso, especially the abdominal and back muscles.   Many fitness centers and certified individuals offer Pilates training. This can also be in a class format. The exercises are part of yoga, part gymnastics and part flexibility. Because Pilates has become so popular, classes and even do-it-yourself Pilates books are widely available for your client. However, nothing beats the expertise of an instructor to help your client get the exercises done properly. Many Pilates exercises are advanced and doing them incorrectly could cause your client injury, so caution is always advised. Once learned from an expert, Pilates can easily be practice at home.

Reconnecting with Nature Helps Reduce Stress Levels

If your client feels particularly inspired by great views, fresh air and the lovely and varied smells of the natural world, choosing an outdoor exercise can inspire your client to keep up the habit. Whether they walk, jog, run, bicycle, skate or climb mountains, exercising outdoors is good for our body and soul. Exercising outside, even for just a little while each day, can also help you to keep in touch with the natural world, which helps to put things in perspective– and that on its own can relieve a lot of stress.

Dance is Therapy for Stress

Whether your client takes an organize class – ballet, jazz, tap, ballroom dancing, swing dancing, etc. – or goes out dancing with friends every weekend, dancing is great cardiovascular exercise, and it also happens to be a lot of fun. Something about music makes exercise seem less like exercise and dancing – especially for fun, even alone in your house with the music blaring.  Vigorous dancing can also be an excellent way to relieve tension and anxiety.

Team Sports Help Social Connection and Reduce Stress

For people who like to play on teams and are motivated and energized by the energy of others, team sports can be an excellent outlet to both get exercise and a social life fulfilled at the same time. Weekend football games, tennis leagues, racquetball tournaments, playground basketball games and beach volleyball can be a lot of fun for your client, and they may even forget that they are exercising.

Lifting Weights Strengths Your Body and Mind While Calming the Mind

Weightlifting isn’t aerobic activity, but it’s an important part of any fitness routine. Lifting weights is a great fitness activity for any adult. It builds bone mass and can reverse osteoporosis. Weightlifting increases muscle tone and helps our bodies to burn more calories because the more muscle we have, the more calories burned during the aerobic portion of our workout. Stronger muscles mean everyday efforts, like lifting grocery bags and small children, are easier. Your client will feel better, their posture will improve, and their body will look firmer and possibly shapelier.

Instruct clients to lift weights no more than every other day. To find a good plan, have your client talk to a health club trainer (if you are not qualified as such), find a good book on lifting weights that addresses their personal goals, or suggest they subscribe to magazines that keep track of the latest news and research on lifting weights and provides different routines and detailed explanations on technique and benefits.  Again, if you are already a personal trainer, this is where you would personalize a program design for your client.

Massage Therapy is Proven to Reduce Stress Symptoms

If your client does become physically active, it is likely that the muscles might be sore afterwards, especially if they are just getting into an exercise habit.  While you shouldn’t have your clients push themselves to the point of pain, movement and effort often results in sore muscles, aching joints, and injury – such as stretched ligaments and pulled tendons.

Massage therapists are trained to manipulate the muscles and connective tissue in the body to help the body find its equilibrium after exercise. Regular exercise is great even for non-exercisers. It activates muscles and skin, improving circulation and even organ function.  But when it becomes uncomfortable or if it creates tightness, a massage may be appropriate for the client.

But massage is also an excellent stress management tool because it helps our bodies and mind to relax as it encourages the body to also help heal itself.  Massage can also give us a feeling of control and mastery over our body as it responds to targeted effects of muscles being massaged.

Stress Management Coaches should consider regular massage as a serious stress management tool because massage is equal to mental and physical maintenance.

How is Eating Connected to Stress?

If your client plans to add an exercise to their stress management strategies– Or even if they are not, we all still must eat. But what will we recommend that our client choose to eat? In the United States, we are notorious for making less than ideal dietary choices and statistics reveal that over half of our population is overweight. But whether your client is cursed with a sweet tooth or a deep affinity for pepperoni pizza with extra cheese, stress can make this less likely to keep compulsive eating under control.

To make things worse, stress-related eating may be particularly dangerous as to your health. Recent research reveals there is a difference between “regular fat” and quote “stressful”. Stress fat is not the lumpy type that you can see jiggling on size or upper arms, stress fat is the fact that accumulates deep inside the body, specifically around the internal organs of the torso.

This stress that is the only fat that is known to contribute to a heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. And we can’t even see it. This dangerous fact may be directly related to stress (among other things, including estrogen levels). Research shows that compulsive eating related to stress is more likely to result in fat accumulation around the internal organs.

Other studies suggest that although cortisol is a powerful appetite stimulant and can trigger excessive eating in a stressed-out client, cortisol encourages the body to accumulate fat in the abdominal region, especially in apple-shaped females– women who tend to gain weight around the middle rather than in the hips and thighs, or the so-called pear-shape.

Stress-related eating is the beginning of a vicious circle. Your client feels stressed, so they eat foods that are likely to increase their susceptibility to stress. Consequently, they feel more stressed any more of these same stressed promoting foods. A Stress Management Coach me wonder how they can stop this madness.

But knowledge is power. This is not the same thing as willpower, but it is the first. Certain foods are known to have a disruptive effect on the body’s equilibrium, while other foods are known to have a more balancing effect. Many cultures have discovered this food/body connection. Ayurveda an ancient Indian system of health maintenance and improvement still popular today, focuses on balancing the body through food as well as other practices. This practice is consistent with contemporary research and health promotion that emphasizes the link between good health, balance, energy, and the foods that we eat. Done

The So-called Diet of the Week

It is easy to find fat diets that promised miraculous results, and it’s equally easy to find people to proclaim how this her that diet was the only thing that work for them. But many of these diets are controversial. Some people swear by the diet that suggest different blood types should focus on different foods. Others are devoted to the low-carb diets such as the zone diet, the Atkins diet, the protein power diet, and the carbohydrate addicts’ diet. Others choose a vegetarian or vegan diet. There are countless others.

But it’s a collection of all diets out there baffles you, that is normal. Essentially, take comfort in realizing that they all boil down to a few simple rules that, when applied, well just about anybody to reach and maintain a healthy weight, feel energize, and manage stress from a dietary perspective:

Whenever possible, eat food as close to its natural state as you can. For example, suggest eating oranges instead of drinking orange juice – however drink orange juice instead of orange soda. Consuming a broiled, free range organic chicken breast would be a better choice over minced, shaped, breaded fried chicken patties. Brown rice should be selected over white rice, old-fashioned oats instead of instant flavored oatmeal is also a better choice. Encourage eating whole wheat bread, or better yet – sprouted wheat bread instead of plain white bread; then consider recommending that your client experiment by spreading natural, organic peanut or almond butter on their choice.

Make recommendations that emphasize nutrient dense foods instead of foods that are mostly empty calories. For example, dried fruit is more nutrient dense than candy, broccoli and carrots with yogurt dip is more nutrient dense than chips or popcorn and freshly squeezed fruit or vegetable juice is more nutrient dense than soda.

Recommend that your client start and end each day with protein and complex carbohydrates rather than simple carbohydrates such as common sugar.

Help clients to figure out their daily intake in terms of percent’s. Don’t recommend more than 30% of calories coming from fat and encourage your client to try to eat fat mostly from sources that contain a higher proportion of monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids rather than saturated fat, trans fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fats.

Reconsidering Treats

Some of your clients will show that they can eat well most of the time but can’t get over the idea that on special occasions, or when they had a hard day, they deserve a treat. If your client is one of these people, we can have them rethink the “treat” concept.

It is very easy to eat in response to stress. Most people do it. After all, they feel they deserve it. But a treat doesn’t have to be about food. A tree could be a movie, a day trip, a full hour of doing nothing, a visit to the salon or a golf game in the middle of the afternoon. There are other ways to treat ourselves that are still fun and rewarding in life that have nothing to do with food. Have your client get in the habit of thinking creatively about how to reward themselves.

Your Client’s Eating Plan Affects Stress Levels

How will your client go about changing their ways (if they in fact, need changing)? Like everything else, they will do it one step at a time. It might sound tedious but if your client gets in the habit of keeping a food diary in which they write down every single item that they each day and how they were feeling when he ate it, they may be surprised at how obvious their bad habits have become.  They might notice that they are feeling stressed or insecure so they Easter, and that when they are feeling confident or calm, the really well. Stay on top of this with your client until you feel they have better control of their eating habits; if they start to slip again, go right back to it. Since this course not focused solely on nutrition, you may need more training in this area if it is a problem outside of your school for practice.

Concluding Thoughts

You will not be able to change every habit that creates stress for a client for the duration of their life.  We must go into stress management coaching with some realities acknowledged.   But we can sure make some significant progress for the better if we simply address stress that can be managed with behavior changes and strategies that are targeted and direct in their aim of eliminating or reducing client stress.

Our client might feel better today than they did last month, but this alone is not a guarantee of how they will feel a year from now – when they may have slipped back into some old bad habits, or if they have experienced new ones.  But another reality – stress is a lifelong condition.  As you know from reading this manual, it can be good or bad.  We want to inform clients of the difference while giving them tools to face the stress they want to eliminate from their lives.  Small changes – and a little vigilance from your client – can go a long way in turning the misery of stress into a thing of the past.  With monitoring (from a coach, like YOU), your client can stay on track more easily.  This will require an on-going commitment and while most coaches will work with a client for 10-12 weeks, refresher sessions should also be discussed before your relationship with a client is fully terminated. Ultimately, if the coach does their job properly with the client’s concerns, they won’t need you as often.  But again, the reality of change may bring a former client back into your service.   This is normal.  In fact, it is a good thing when viewed from the perspective of customer/client satisfaction; your client would not return if they did not believe you were effective or if they did not know for certain that you could help.

Coaches also must learn to keep their own stress under control. It’s not always easy but when stress does arise and hits a threshold, the coach can also deploy the same strategies used in this program on themselves.