Exercise and Stress – How To Relieve 3 Main Causes of Stress


For all of the great things we can say about getting in shape, the elephant in the room is that sometimes fitness can be to royal pain in the gluteus maximus. We know that being in shape can help us live a longer and more productive life. We know it’s important to eat well and be active. We most certainly understand that there are consequences to eating a bucket of fries or never doing more for our body than just staying upright.

However, the evidence all around us suggests that knowing these things is not enough. Every year more people are choosing not to take charge of their health and those who do make the effort may eventually quit. So despite all of the advantages, there is still a lot of friction we can face when it comes to diet and exercise. This friction can build up and completely stop even the most disciplined and motivated individuals. This article is about exploring the 3 main sources of this stressful friction and what can be done to help resolve them.

Cause of Fitness Stress #1 – High Lifestyle Cost
We are often told that getting in shape requires a commitment of one’s lifestyle. We can’t get in shape just because we take a pill or use a gadget for a few minutes 3 times a week. While a healthy lifestyle is important, that doesn’t mean diet and exercise has to take over your life. It doesn’t have to rule your time, energy or other lifestyle resources. Such a complete commitment may be fine for the professional athlete or model, but it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to dedicate their lives to diet and exercise.

As society races into the future, we are becoming ever more aware that we have a finite amount of lifestyle resources. We only have so much time, money, energy, discipline and motivation. Diet and exercise practices take up some of these finite resources which means we have less for other things we would like to do in life. It would be great if we had all of the time, money and energy we could ever want but reality just isn’t willing to deal us those cards.

Plus it’s not like we don’t already have other things taking up those sources. We all have jobs, family, friends and other interests. In order to get in shape, we have to use whatever resources we have left over from everything else. Anything that can stress your lifestyle resources can add significant friction to your fitness journey. While spending more time and money on losing weight or exercising may seem great on paper, it may leave a lot to be desired in actual application.

An extra hour in the gym or spending 20 more dollars for groceries may not seem like much. However, I have yet to meet anyone who has even those resources just waiting to be spent. Every minute, every dollar and every ounce of energy we spend towards diet and exercise is also being taken away from something else. Something else we may not want to give up. This sort of trade off of lifestyle resources can cause massive amounts of stress.

Solution To Cause #1 – Focus on Efficient Ways To Fulfill The Root Cause
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that every little detail matters or that you must spend a lot of your resources to get in shape. The good news is that while changing the body does take effort, it doesn’t always require spending all of your time and money. We all change for the same root reasons. We all lose fat, build muscle and become faster runners for the same reasons.

exercise-stress-causes-reliefThe beautiful thing is that these root causes don’t always require a lot of your resources. A common example would be the quest to lose body fat. While our fitness culture may be filled with people saying we need supplement X or cardio machine Y to lose weight, nothing could be further from the truth.

Since the dawn of civilization people have lost weight simply by eating less food or greatly increasing their energy expenditure. Neither of these things requires you to spend a lot of your lifestyle resources to accomplish. You can become more active simply walking or riding to work every day. You can cut back on calories just by using smaller portion sizes and less snacking.

Getting in shape isn’t rocket science, so it doesn’t require a team of engineers or a government budget. Heck, I even know of a guy who became insanely strong just lifting rocks in his backyard for 15 minutes a day. The bottom line is that getting in shape doesn’t have to cost a lot if we don’t have the resources.

Cause of Fitness Stress #2 – Lack of Results
Using efficient diet and exercise methods is a great way to reduce the stress fitness can place upon your lifestyle. That being said, nothing can become efficient enough to be worth while if the method isn’t getting you the results you want. Even a 10 minute workout with a free personal trainer will be a waste of your resources if it does not help you achieve your goals.

Your mind is always weighing the cost against the benefits of everything you do in life. You’ll gladly spend everything you’ve got if the reward is great enough. But nothing is worth even the most minimal of efforts if it doesn’t bring you any benefit. When you use diet and exercise methods that don’t produce worthwhile results you will naturally lose motivation for that method. It’s not about being lazy or undisciplined. It’s just your rational mind telling you that you’re not getting enough benefit to make the costs in your lifestyle worth while.

This is why it’s so important to make sure you get the results you are after and to continue to consistently see results. There isn’t enough motivation and discipline in the world that can force your hand to keep doing something that isn’t worth the effort. In some cases, even the fear of our own mortality isn’t enough to get us to make changes in our daily lives if we feel the cost is just too high.

Solution To Cause #2 – Use Tried and True Methods and Always Seek Progression
Getting what you want isn’t about being lucky or fortunate. Fitness is not a game or a lottery where you win some and lose some. You most certainly should expect to win all of the time at least on some level. Once again, the key is to seek basic methods that have been proven to work. Use a workout log, seek progression, and look to improve your performance over time. It’s nothing fancy, but then again the more fancy we try to make things the more friction we risk building up. So stick to the basics and never stop improving your ability to do them better and better year after year.

Cause of Fitness Stress #3 – Not Having Enough Fun
The final source of stress and friction can come from not having enough fun or enjoyment on a day-to-day basis. We’re often told that fitness is a long-term deal and that we have to put up with some short-term stress to achieve long-term benefits. While we do sometimes have to endure momentary discomfort, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves.

We humans are motivated by both long-term and short-term potential. If we are faced with only the prospect of benefits that are far off in the future then we may fight ourselves to take action in the present. So even though you know you shouldn’t eat that extra helping, the immediate satisfaction being weighed against the long-term consequences can cause a significant amount of stress and friction.

Solution To Cause #3 – Use Short Term Methods That Bring Long Term Benefits
I’m always telling people who almost everything in our fitness culture is optional. If you don’t like Greek yogurt you don’t have to eat it. If you don’t want to give up sugar then you don’t have to. And if doing cardio at the gym is your idea of mind numbing torture then you don’t have to do it. We have 1,001 different ways to achieve any fitness goal so why pick the one method you have to constantly fight yourself to do? It’s kind of like going to a restaurant and ordering the one item on the menu that you really don’t like.

It may take some time to find what you enjoy the most, but you can always start off with figuring out what you dislike. From there you can search for more suitable substitutions that may suite your fancy. If you can work on using efficient, effective and enjoyable methods, you’ll dramatically reduce the friction causing stress that can make getting in shape feel like riding your bike with the brakes on.

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About Author

Matt Schifferle

My name is Matt Schifferle and I'm an A.C.E. Certified Personal Trainer, CrossFit Level 1 coach, underground strength coach and I'm a 5th degree black belt in Taekwon-Do. I specialize in outdoor and playground based underground and CrossFit style bootcamps. See my profile page for more information!

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