How Exercise Can Combat Stress, Depression and Anxiety

Tim Watt  |  October 27, 2015

Recently, the Sunrise Blog discussed a study which found that a link exists between stress and Alzheimer's disease. In short, it discovered that certain hormones released in the brain during stressful situations could be responsible for some of the damage that eventually leads to cognitive degeneration and dementia.

Check out the full article here.

Unfortunately, stress, depression and anxiety cannot be turned off with the flick of a switch. More often than not, people can't control the way they feel. So how can seniors combat stress and its negative side effects? Independent living activities like community dinners, games, sports and crafts all help through the power of social interaction. Exercise is another great way to combat these mental blocks, and it  can be done solo or with friends. Seniors also benefit physically from exercise - it can help prevent heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Read on to learn more about how exercising can benefit seniors with depression, anxiety or stress.

It's a myth that stress ends with retirement. Seniors have many things to worry about in their daily lives, whether that be moving to a retirement home or experiencing health issues. Stress is, unfortunately, a part of life. Researchers from the University of Ioannina, Greece, found that stress induces hormones from the adrenal gland which trigger the "fight or flight" response. When stressful situations are ongoing and the release of these hormones becomes a chronic condition, it can lead to further health problems, such as hypertension and obesity.

According to the researchers, exercise helps to combat the effects of stress in a few ways. First, physical activity reduces one's overall sensitivity to stress. Next, exercising may influence a person's sensitivity to insulin, which is directly related to heart health. When exercising, a person's body reassigns its fuel allocations. For example, when inactive, the body stores energy, which, through further inactivity, becomes fat. However, exercising forces the body to reallocate that fuel towards movement and oxidation. All of these factors point to the benefits of physical activity in the face of stress-induced illnesses.

Depression may be caused by a number of things, and usually goes beyond ordinary sadness. According to Harvard Medical School, stress has a very real chemical component. Brains are immensely complicated and there are many chemical reactions that could lead to chronic depression. With that said, the school identified the three main affected areas as the amygdala, thalamus and hippocampus. The amygdala and hippocampus interact during frightening situations. Researchers believe that the interaction is responsible for painful memories or involuntary reactions to frightening stimuli. The thalamus helps to relay sense information to other parts of the brain and these relays might be affected by stressful situations.

Harvard Medical School reported that a regular exercise routine can combat the negative effects of depression. The same cannot be said for short, random bursts of exercise. In other words, a 30 minute aerobic routine will not cure a person of their depression. Physical activity must be sustained over a long period of time before the effects can be felt. Seniors with depression should look to their friends and family for assistance and encouragement when it comes to staying motivated to exercise.

All of the information related above can also be applied to anxiety problems. Unless the anxiety is caused by a disease of the brain, seniors should be able to mitigate anxiety through physical activity. Research conducted at the University of Leeds, U.K., found that social anxiety may be alleviated through group exercise programs. Such activities could help seniors who feel anxious about moving to a retirement home.

Exercising is great for the body and the mind. Seniors should be encouraged to participate in regular physical activity, but it is important to always ask a doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.

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