PT on the Net Research

Stress and Exercise


Could you please discuss the good/bad relationships between stress and exercise?


The goal of any exercise/nutrition/lifestyle program "should" be to apply just the right amount of stress to the body to elicit the desired training effect, without exponentially increasing the body's total cumulative stress to a level that is excessive and harmful to it. This is what makes a thorough assessment of an individual's nutritional habits and lifestyle patterns so crucial as they will play a large role in determining exercise capability, whether the goal(s) is improved standard of life or improved performance/physique.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) has been labeled the body's master regulator overseeing all metabolic activities from respiration, to digestion, to detoxification and to elimination. The ANS is divided into two distinct yet interdependent branches: the parasympathetic branch (PNS) and the sympathetic branch (SNS). The PNS is generally associated with functions of rebuilding, repairing, resting, or states of anabolism (tissue building). The SNS is just the opposite and is generally associated with functions of activation, stimulation, "fight or flight" responses, or states of catabolism (tissue destroying). The body needs both of these functions (yin and yang) depending upon the time of day, the internal/external cues/stimulators, etc. However, when the body becomes over-stressed due to the many unhealthy circumstances of modern society such as: environmental toxicity/pollution, food processing, dehydration, lack of sleep, social/professional pressures, lack of OR poor choices of exercise/movement, etc ., the body can become "stuck" in a sympathetic (i.e. catabolic) state. This is just one of the many potential paths that will eventually lead to hormonal imbalance/dysfunction and ultimately chronic degenerative disease(s) (diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancers, osteoporosis, etc.).

All of this is why it is detrimental that the exercise regimens that trainers give to their clients do in no way contribute to the likelihood of excessive sympathetic nervous system stimulation. Please see the diagram below. This diagram illustrates the inverse relationship, that should be taken into account, between stress and exercise intensity.

Unfortunately, many personal trainers lack the education and training to be able to assess total body stress loads, which leads to less than optimal programming. Many PTontheNET readers have seen me recommend many of the same readings/sources/books over and over again. Many of these references help to explain what we've been discussing above. It is very important to stop thinking of how to take care of certain portions/aspects of our bodies as separate entities (i.e., nutrition, exercise, lifestyle, etc.). Rather, these all have a great amount or interplay with each other, and success as a "whole" is based on this integration. The body is a "cybernetic organism", meaning it's a system made of systems and it must be trained accordingly. In my humble opinion, the easiest to understand resource to date on how to take care of the body as a "whole" is: How to Eat, Move & Be Healthy! by Paul Chek. With this book, you and your clients will be able to administer basic assessments on total body stress load, individual nutritional requirements (Metabolic Typing, etc.), sleep/wake cycles, likelihood of fungal/parasite problems, and of course instruction on how to develop customized exercise assessments/programs. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be able to do this for your clients. If these issues are not being addressed, only a mere fraction of one's total potential progress will/can be met. Another recommendation that I personally feel very strong about is experiencing the C.H.E.K Institute's Nutrition and Lifestyle (NLC) certification courses. The information taught is 100% practical and can change the lives of your clients as well as yourself for the better.