Why We Need Emotional-Cognitive Focused Exercise Training in Stressful Times

woman stretching outside before an exercise


Watch any child learn to walk and you see the manifestation of stress; the interactions of opposing forces.  The power of a child’s will opposes nature’s oppressive force of gravity, as she summons her body’s resources.  Upright and strong, she stands and boldly steps into the future, to become something more than just the sum of a stressful interaction.  Each of us, like all of life’s enhancements, is a product of stress. Yet, when living systems’ adaptive resources fail to meet the demands of their environment, stress will force them into extinction.[i] 

Before us, only external forces initiated stressful interactions by disrupting homeostasis; i.e., the force of inertia that maintains a living system’s internal steady state of motion.  Unique from other living systems, we no longer have to wait for external random events to disrupt a perfectly good life and challenge our adaptive capacity. Evolution blessed and burdened us with the internal power to imagine and initiate stressful interactions that will test our physical, cognitive, and emotional resources.  Exerting the power of our desires; our dreams, we can consciously will our own enhancement or extinction, no external forces required. 

Disrupting the steady state of our lives is inherently a risky proposition.  Stress, internally imagined or externally imposed, demands we learn how to cope with these risks while focusing on figuring out how to live the life of which we dream.  Safely and effectively testing limits is the first principle of exercise training. When coupled with emotional and cognitive training, the stress inoculating effects of exercise[ii] are magnified.  In the midst of an inactivity epidemic, it is no coincidence that coping resources have gone underdeveloped, especially among the young.  As anxiety, depression[iii] and suicides[iv] are on the rise among children, adolescents and young adults, ours is a time that could truly benefit from this emotional, cognitive, behavioral focused exercise training.   


[i] Richard S. Lazarus and S. Folkman. 1984. Stress, Appraisal, and Coping. Springer Publishing Company, NY.  The concept of stress used in this article is based on the transactional model of stress presented by Lazarus and Folkman.

[ii] Felipe Lobelo, D.R. Young, R. Sallis, M.D. Garber, S.A. Billinger, J. Duperly, A. Hutber, R.R. Pate, R.J. Thomas, M.E. Widlansky, M.V. McConnell and E.A. Joy. Routine assessment and promotion of physical activity in healthcare settings: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association.  Circulation, published online April 4, 2018, http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2018/04/03/CIR.0000000000000559 (Accessed April 6, 2018). The fact that regular exercise has been shown to protect against an array of lifestyle diseases; i.e., more than 40 pathological conditions including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes mellitus, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression, speaks to the robust stress inoculating effect of exercise.

[iii] Reem M. Ghandour, L. J. Sherman, C. J. Vladutiu, M. M. Ali, S. E. Lynch, R. H. Bitsko, and S. J. Blumberg. Prevalence and treatment of depression, anxiety, and conduct problems in US children.  The Journal of Pediatrics, 2019:206, pp. 256–267. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2018.09.021.

[iv] Oren Miron, K-H Yu, R. Wilf-Miron, and I. S. Kohane. Suicide rates among adolescents and young adults in the United States, 2000-2017. Jama 2019:321(23), pp. 2362-2364.  doi:10.1001/jama.2019.5054

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