“Exercise not only changes the body, it changes the mind, your attitude & your mood.”
Exercise can be a great stress reliever… we all remember the quote from Elle Woods “Exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy. Happy people don't shoot their husbands. They just don't.” And it’s true! The body is flooded with feel good hormones while exercising… BUT, did you know that exercise can actually be a stressful event for your body?? Exercise ALSO increases cortisol in our bodies. So, it is important to plan your exercise for the best time of day, and the best style to suit your current circumstances.
Cortisol is naturally high in the morning and drops gradually throughout the day, letting melatonin (your sleep hormone) to take over in the evening, getting your body ready for rest. So naturally, we should have the most energy in the morning. This is the time to utilise the cortisol already in your system, giving you get up and go, and a drive to perform. HOWEVER, this is where it gets tricky…. If you’re already stressed, and your cortisol is already high, exercise can in fact, stress your body even further! So how do you combat this? My tips if you’re already experiencing stress:
Exercise first thing in the morning, for no longer than 30 mins.
Limit your days of hard exercise, to limit the production of further cortisol. Having too much cortisol in our systems can result in women actually putting on fat, especially around their midsections, instead of losing it.
Incorporate a couple of days of gentle exercise. Yoga & Pilates are fabulous alternatives… while they don’t raise the heart as high as something like HIIT, they can still be an effective workout.
Incorporate plenty of “active recovery” days. This means that you’re not just sitting on the couch, but you might go for a walk, stretch, swim… anything that is gentle but still moving your body.
End your workout sessions with a calming breathwork practice – bonus if you add meditation too! This allows you to not only catch your breath, but allows your body to let go of any residual stress (from exercise, or just life), and allows you to sit and feel into your body.
And make sure you schedule in self-care & joyful exercise! Exercise shouldn’t be a chore… playing with the kids, going for a hike, kayaking, or simply putting on some music and letting your body move in any way you feel. These are great ways to let your emotions pass through your body in a constructive way.
Our nutrition also plays a HUGE part in our stress response. We all have heard that some foods are “bad” and some foods are “good”. I’m not going to sit here and tell you what you can and can’t eat… but what I will say is that our gut and our brain have a strong connection. Have you ever noticed, that when you eat fresh foods such as good quality proteins, healthy fats, and lots of fruit and veg, you FEEL better. You feel happier, more alert and have more energy. When you eat more processed foods, you end up feeling sluggish, slow and just yucky. And it always feels like a slippery slope… and we’re left saying we’ll “start tomorrow” in eating better again…but tomorrow turns into the next day, and the next, and a vicious cycle is born.
When we’re already feeling stressed, our bodies go looking for a quick hit of feel good hormones, which can be found in sugary processed foods. It’s why when you go through a rough time in your life, most people get cravings to “fill the void”.
As humans, society has taught us not to feel the stress, the hurt, and the anxiousness. To just keep pushing through until it feels better… but reality is, our bodies crave comfort in one way or another, whether it’s through food, exercise or some other means. The best thing for us to do is continue eating as fresh as possible, to signal to our bodies that we are safe & well cared for.
Top tips for using nutrition:
· When feeling stressed, you can drink tea such as matcha, green tea, chamomile, passionflower or tulsi tea to help calm the nervous system. Green tea is especially great, as it is high in l-theanine, an amino acid that reduces anxiety.
· Take 5 big deep belly breaths before consuming a meal. This not only helps you drop into your body to bring mindfulness to your meal, it also switches your body into the parasympathetic response (rest & digest) and helps your body digest and use the nutrients from the food you consume.
· Eat a rainbow of fruit & vegetables, good quality proteins and healthy fats. Fuel your body with good nutrition – and if you are in a mental state, indulge in soul foods. Foods that are not as good nutritionally, but light your soul on fire. Enjoy these foods mindfully – don’t just inhale. Taste, experience the textures and the flavours of every single bite. This will help you slow down when eating too!
· Follow your menstrual cycle phases and nourish your body accordingly. What your body loves in one stage as a woman, can cause stress as you move into another phase.
If you haven’t yet realised, our bodies are intricate beings, and your nutrition & exercise plays a vital role in how your body performs and more importantly, how you are FEELING. So, what changes can you make today, that are going to benefit you tomorrow?