Exercise Can Be a Positive or Negative Stressor

Sport and exercise are physically stressful to the body, and stress is usually regarded as undesirable. However, medical experts agree that well-managed exercise is beneficial for health and mood enhancement. People enjoy sports and exercise because they are different from negative events encountered at other times. People like this kind of activity because it produces a positive mood, and they experience benefits and satisfaction from it. In most cases, the body is capable of handling the substantial adjustments that are required by the demands of strenuous exercise.

The effect of a stressor depends on how it is interpreted; that is, whether the person perceives positive or negative consequences. A positive interpretation creates positive emotion, motivation, and mood, which result in positive adjustments of peripheral responses such as musculoskeletal locomotion. Negative thoughts about the situation lead to negative emotions and unwelcome consequences, such as an imbalance of the musculoskeletal system as a result of tight muscles. The emotional demands of competition, the desire to win, the fear of failure, and unrealistically high expectations can all be the source of psychologic stress.

With negative emotion, the musculoskeletal system is less balanced. If an event is interpreted as a negative stressor, more of the stress hormone cortisol is produced as a response. Higher levels and longer secretion of cortisol can change brain wiring, hamper physical performance, and harm health.

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