Exercising Stress Away
Two forces are at work against us when we don’t get enough exercise. First is the fact that human beings were built to be in motion. We evolved as hunter-gatherers, not as couch-sitting television watchers. Our systems were meant to be used by a physically active body. When that body is constantly sedentary, our systems do not perform at peak capacity and waste products are not eliminated as efficiently as they should be.
The second force that is at work against us is our body’s natural fight-or-flight response. Our stress hormones were designed to help us defeat stressors in the form of physical threats to our safety or else run away from them. Today, our stressors are more often psychological than physical—but the production of stress hormones remains the same. They are not dissipated through fighting or fleeing; instead, they continue to circulate through the body, wreaking havoc on our cells.
Regular exercise is the best way to remove these toxic byproducts of the stress response. As long as it is not overdone, exercise relieves everyday stress, enhances immune system function, boosts circulation, and improves our ability to get a good night’s rest (of primary importance, since we know that most cellular repair takes place while we sleep). One other note on sleep: a fascinating study has recently been completed showing the importance of sleeping in total darkness for many health reasons, including breast cancer reduction. It was found that women who worked night shifts, such as nurses and flight attendants, had a 60% higher rate of breast cancer. The research, conducted at the National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, revealed a disquieting finding: Exposure to light during the hours of sleep appears to aggressively promote breast cancer by shutting off the production of melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland. This hormone, which is naturally produced by the body during the hours of darkness, is known to be a strong immune system booster. Its presence also impedes the growth of cancer tumors by as much as 80%, according to research findings.