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The Wellness Blog

Stress is Enhancing Us: An Uncommon Fitness Mindset

Jennifer Schwartz
Impact Your Fitness

What if I told you that exercise is actually stressful? What if I told you that understanding this is one of the most productive ways to make your exercise routine stick?

‘Eustress’ is a very useful word to know in this context. It is defined as ‘beneficial stress, a positive form of stress having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance and emotional well-being.”

We can’t always avoid stress, and I believe that we shouldn’t need to avoid it. If we change our mindset about the challenges we face, it can change our outlook and our strength; inside and out. My knees have been injured several times and I was sad because I thought I would never run again. Some information out there regarding healing teaches us to coddle our joints, while other information emphasizes putting unneeded pressure on joints and acting like an injury wasn’t there in the first place. Our philosophy is different. We take the road less traveled. I am now fulfilled in my body’s strength and taking on challenges regularly. I’ve integrated the positive benefits of stress that exercise brings me and it has been an effective, long-lasting way to heal and transform my health.

At Impact Your Fitness we teach our clients to embrace a revolutionary mindset for strengthening weakened and painful joints. Our speciality is neuromuscular therapy and sports performance. We completely understand that chronic injury, tightness and reoccurring injury take a toll on your energy and overall enjoyment of exercise, and we work smarter and harder at making that a reality of the past for you. Part of the process to a full recovery and having more freedom with movement is increasing your body’s tolerance to stress with graded exposure to it. The key to balancing this equation is making the stress an acute event. The second key is knowing that keeping hope and putting energy into your betterment are virtues. With exercise these virtues can be cultivated over time and according to psychological research* they are vital for living a happy, healthy life.

When we exercise there are at least 9,815 molecules being affected (New York Times, 2020). This is the amount that has been identified thus far though the authors of a 2020 paper in the journal Cell suspect that there are even more to measure. Exercise has also been implicated by the Royal Academy of Medicine as being 30% more effective at treating chronic disease than most pharmaceuticals. One of the things I continually tell my clients is that we can see through the neurobiology of how exercise supports mental well-being and physical health. We are born to move and exercise is a portal for our best self. The fine line of making exercise beneficial or harmful lies within fine-tuning our body’s ability to recover and adapt to acute stress by recognizing that stress can enhance us when used with this approach.

This new mindset is an integral part of our innovative neuromuscular treatments, however you don’t need to have these treatments to benefit from it. We use the mindset of Resilience and understanding Hormetic Stress is the future of fitness, Lifestyle Medicine and sports medicine because it supports the human body’s capacity to regenerate and govern our body with love.

Resilience as a concept was made popular by authors like Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth. Personally, my favorite author in this space is Kelly McGonigal. She advocates that stress is something we can work with and in fact has taken this idea into scientific rigor in her research at Stanford. Her books advocate that the way we view stress determines its biological effect in our body. This innovative idea, that stress is enhancing us instead of harming us, comes down to mindset and the logical application that we are demanding a lot of the ‘flight or fight’ system.

The truth of the matter is that we need a new attitude about our stress. It’s never going away and in our modern society it begs for a fresh new look. A heavy load is left on our system if we are stuck in the hustle and bustle. A majority of our society is under-healthy and under a perpetual state of stress as a result of this conditioning. We cannot stress a system that is already under a high load and we cannot learn to bounce back without the knowledge that our body is capable of regenerating itself. Being able to exercise and actually reap the benefits means we have to start with a tuned-up engine before revving it up with the stress of exercise.

By participating in a resilient fitness mindset you are being asked to find deeper levels of trust and acceptance within yourself. With this as your power new levels of strength will arise. YOUR body has a preference for acute stress because it provides a biological stimulus for living life. This reset is the greatest portal you’ll ever find to the lasting health benefits of exercise. It seems to me, after years of working with the nervous system in injured populations, that if we change our state of being, our nervous system changes, and our thoughts and biology change.

Here are some ways you can empower your body and mind with stress:

  • Strength training that emphasizes good technique, skill and rest
  • If you are just getting started or returning to exercise, we recommend using the World Health Organization’s guidelines of 75 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week plus 150 minutes of light to moderate intensity exercise per week. We also recommend that this include activity that’s fun and motivating.
  • Using breathing exercises that emphasize increasing lung capacity like Wim Hoff technique and deep diaphragm breathing exercises
  • Sauna and cold thermogenesis are great ways to get some benefits of exercise and build resilience without moving that much! This is also a proven way to help with depression, anxiety and chronic pain which are all huge detrimental factors in physical inactivity
  • Isometric-based exercise improves neuromuscular communication and coordination. It is our go-to exercise prescription for those recovering from sports injury and chronic injury
  • Engage in community-building exercise groups or classes

By coming back to your body in this way, taking full advantage of your biology to reset through stress and exercise has the potential for tremendous psychological and physiological benefits.

A group of Stanford students were in a 90’s study observed their value system in relation to health during one of their breaks. One group was asked to track good or interesting things happening in their day. Another group was asked to track their values and to evaluate them day to day. The group that journaled about their values had been relating their stress to meaning in their life and were found to be healthier and more motivated for the upcoming semester. They were framing stress in a productive way and I’m asking you to do the same if you want a consistent exercise routine rooted in self-love and trust rather than shame and guilt.

Resilience is built from partnering with your body. With using your body’s natural intuition response, tracking your activity or with technology we can see the internal state of your body that are responsible for responding to stress.

Resilience is not simply being a bulldog and “toughening up.” It has nothing to do with aggression and the “do-more” culture of high intensity exercise or sports. Resilience is about accepting what is within our control. We must tune the body back into itself and understand that the human body actually loves acute stressors.

For more resources on this topic:

NOTE: This is NOT medical advice. If you are experiencing pain and have chronic disease please consult with your physician before beginning an exercise program.


Impact Your Fitness

301 North Fairfax Street Alexandria, Virginia 22314