A new study reaffirms the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle, especially during times of stress. The researchers found that people who were physically fit moderated the health risks caused by stress more effectively than their less-fit counterparts. These findings add to a growing body of evidence which shows that aerobic exercise is clinically proven to benefit your heart and mind in the short- and long-term.
This study was conducted by Markus Gerber, a sports scientist from the Department of Sport, Exercise and Health at the University of Basel in Switzerland in conjunction with colleagues from Sweden. The November 2016 report appears today in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
Staying Active Is Especially Important When You Are Stressed
Everybody knows that your psychological and physical well-being benefits from regular exercise. Unfortunately, during times of distress, there is often a tendency to exercise less.In a statement to University of Basel, Gerber explained, “Above all, these findings are significant because it is precisely when people are stressed that they tend to engage in physical activity less often.”
This new research by Gerber et al. suggests that becoming inactive during stressful times creates a double whammy by making someone more likely to become depressed while increasing his or her health risks.
More specifically, reduced levels of cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) increase your likelihood of experiencing cardiometabolic risk factors such as higher blood pressure along with increasing your overall risk of cardiovascular diseases. In fact, the researchers confirmed that cardiovascular fitness is linked to virtually every heart disease risk factor.
For this study, the researchers compiled self-reported stress level surveys and tested the cardiorespiratory fitness of 197 male and female professional Swedish workers with an average age of 39 on a stationary bicycle. Additionally, the researchers measured a wide range of cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), cholesterol, triglycerides, and glycated hemoglobin.
As would be expected, the researchers found that highly stressed individuals, who were out of shape, exhibited more cardiovascular risk factors across the board. For example, when stress levels were high, the LDL cholesterol values exceeded the clinically relevant limit in employees with a low fitness level. However, this was not the case for those with high fitness levels.
The findings of this study may seem like common sense. But, it’s always helpful to have empirical data to fortify your motivation to maintain a fitness regimen—especially when your life is hectic, and you’re feeling too stressed out to make time for a workout.
Physical Fitness Is a Potent Stress Buster in the Workplace
According to the researchers, psychosocial stress is one of the primary factors that leads to illness-related absenteeism. Therefore, it behooves employers and managers to encourage employees to stay physically active, especially when someone on your team is under more pressure than usual.
Analysis of the study data identified a continuum between the subjective perception of stress and the positive or negative impact of cardiovascular risk factors. As an example, among the study participants who were the most stressed, there were dramatic variances between the cardiometabolic risk factors displayed by individuals with the highest and lowest fitness levels.
The good news is that cardiorespiratory fitness appears to create a type of psychological and physical prophylaxis that can protect you from the health risks associated with experiencing high levels of stress in the workplace. The study abstract concludes, “Higher CRF may provide some protection against the health hazards of high chronic stress by attenuating the stress-related increase in cardiovascular risk factors.”
The latest research reminds us all that maintaining your cardiorespiratory fitness can directly combat depressive symptoms while lowering a broad spectrum of cardiovascular risk factors associated with stress. Simply by making moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a daily habit, it seems possible to immunize yourself from a myriad of health risks associated with stress. Hopefully, these findings will motivate you to stay physically active, especially during times of high stress.