How to beat Stress with Exercise

The Theory

Stress is stress, the only difference is degree. There’s the extreme stress of losing your job, but even standing up from the computer is a stress on your body. The only difference is degree.

Exercise is controlled emotional and physical stress. Exercise breaks down neurons, just like any other stress, but in a controlled way. The repair mechanisms that kick in after the exercise leave you stronger for next time. A low level of stress is good for you, like a vaccine. Exercise raises your brain’s tolerance for stressful situations and you will be better able to deal with the stresses and strains of everyday life if you exercise regularly.

There’s no such thing as ‘bad’ stress

Your body makes no distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ stress. Winning the lottery and being faced with a hungry lion both trigger a stress response in the brain. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are just our opinions and sometimes the same stress can be ‘good’ in one situation and ‘bad’ in another. For example, a soldier trained to suspect car bombs feels stress when he is faced with an unknown car: great in Afghanistan, not so useful in Amersham. Stress is what saves us when faced with the hungry lion by triggering the fight or flight response. When your brain is stressed it boosts levels of norepinephrine and dopamine, increasing your focus and attention, helping you get that essay done on deadline day!

But of course we all know that too much stress, or constant low-level stress is miserable. Stressed people become obsessed (not emotionally, chemically) with the object of the stress and ignore everything else. Stress inhibits learning as well, making the stress self-reinforcing, as your brain can’t learn from the past mistakes that have caused the stress. It becomes a negative feedback loop.

Loneliness can become a part of this negative feedback loop as well. Stress makes us less likely to seek out society and, with fewer friends, we have less support through the tough times and the stress persists.

As we all know, stress can have a serious negative impact on our health. One of the ways it does is poor diet. After stress the brain craves glucose to replenish its stocks. This is fine if we are only occasionally stressed, but if we’re constantly stressed out then this response becomes unhealthy.

How does exercise tackle stress?

  • Exercise builds more insulin receptors, for more efficient use of glucose.
  • Exercise strengthens the synaptic pathways in your brain by increasing production of BDNF. This makes your brain better able to deal with future stresses.
  • Exercise relaxes the resting tension in the muscles, so the brain can relax too.
  • Exercise lowers blood pressure.
  • Exercise can increase social activity through participation in team sports or social contact at the gym.
  • Exercise is something you can do, it gives you control over the stress. This will boost your self-confidence.

The Workout

Exercise has been shown to be more effective against stress than food, alcohol or medication so make exercise a part of your life. Consider the fact that palaeolithic man used to walk 5-10 miles a day. Today, however, a large proportion of the modern Western population (including myself) has a predominantly sedentary lifestyle. This is not the lifestyle that our brains have evolved for.

I keep exercise in my daily life by cycling around London instead of taking public transport. When I haven’t got any plans to cycle anywhere, I make sure that I take several walks during the day and try to go for a short run as well.

Team sports are particularly good ways of building exercise into your life because very often there is a constant stream of games and the obligation of not letting the team down compels you to exercise. It’s also good fun!


Information from this article is taken from Spark! The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman.

Global Social Media Use Statistics: FIFA.com Goal of the Year Case Study

This has to be the most boring blog post title EVER. But, hey, I love stats. I studied the reported social media use from each of the ten nominations for goal of the year. These nominations came from nine countries: South Africa, Brazil, Japan, The Netherlands (two nominations, although only one got any serious sharing), Argentina, France, Northern Ireland, Sweden and Turkey. I assume that these share statistics will roughly represent the social media usage in each of the countries nominated because football fans are very loyal and most of the goals came in international matches or national league matches in the country of the player’s birth, rather than national league matches in a country foreign to the player.

So, after 24 hours of global sharing (to allow for timezone differences), what do we find?

  • No one uses Buzz. 
  • Only three countries use Twitter that much: The Netherlands, Japan and – above all – Brazil. Brazil had over 30% of shares done through Twitter. 
  • Every single other country represented used Facebook to share more than 90% of the time.

Here are the hard stats, for the countries that drew more than 500 shares (sorry South Africa!):

Brazil (915 shares)

Twitter: 32.57%
Facebook: 66.67%
Buzz: 0.77%

Japan (2995)

Twitter: 18.3%
Facebook: 81.34%
Buzz: 0.37%

The Netherlands (2792 – two nominations)

Twitter: 9.6%
Facebook: 89.94%
Buzz: 0.47%

Argentina (1005)

Twitter: 6.17%
Facebook: 93.23%
Buzz: 0.6%

France (1439)

Twitter: 5.98%
Facebook: 93.26%
Buzz: 0.76%

Northern Ireland (3247)

Twitter: 5.67%
Facebook: 94.09%
Buzz: 0.25%

Sweden (9066)

Twitter: 2.14%
Facebook: 97.67%
Buzz: 0.19%

Turkey (at least 12281 – Facebook stops reporting precise data at these amounts)

Twitter: 2.17%
Facebook: 97.71%
Buzz: 0.11%

So there you have it. Fascinating, eh? I’m sure this will be interesting to someone, won’t it? That Brazil uses Twitter a lot? Or, at least, that goal trended in Brazil or something. Could just be a fluke. That’s the problem with statistics I suppose. Oh well. Enjoy the goals anyway.

22 Tips for 100 Push Ups

I am now on week 10 of the 6 week program ‘One Hundred Push Ups’. I finally feel like I can say I have accomplished pretty much what I set out to achieve: I have done 100 consecutive push ups (or press ups, as I call them – like I’m a button or something) on no less than three occasions.

So here are my hot-tips for anyone else wanting to take the pain.

22 Tips for 100 push ups

  1. Press ups are hard bloody work. By the end of a good session, you will be sweating buckets. The floor below you will be damp. Which is nice. Maybe have a towel close to hand, certainly in the latter weeks.
  2. Give yourself a good reason for doing this stupid regime. Mine was to be able to show off in the pub.
  3. Get yourself an ups buddy. Otherwise the first few weeks will seem pretty stupid and pointless: ‘I did 10 press ups!’ isn’t going to impress anyone else.
  4. Press ups make your legs wobbly. You also might not be able to move your arms much.
  5. After a hard session, do not expect your arms to respond when you want to get up. You will have to roll onto your back, bring your knees up and then roll onto your side so you have some leverage. This is normal.
  6. Don’t try carrying anything immediately after a heavy session. You will drop it.
  7. For this reason, don’t drink from a glass. But do drink (water).
  8. Eat an egg soon after for muscle-loving protein.
  9. Try not to strain your neck – it hurts. Looking forwards, as opposed to downwards seems to help. However, it is a fact (I reckon anyway) that contorting your face into stupid grimaces and making ridiculous noises DOES make that last set of 10 easier.
  10. Eventually you will stop making grunting noises that make people think you’re watching porn.
  11. Feel good about it. Feel really good about it. Make a spreadsheet or something, tick things off.
  12. Make sure you have access to the regime at all times. You don’t want to miss a day just because you don’t know how many you should be doing. No excuses.
  13. Don’t fuss over what time of day to do them: it’s going to hurt like fuck anyway. It’s supposed to.
  14. You can do it through (non-ups related) aches and pains. 6 hours of cricket and trampball on the Sunday and I went for a hard session on the Monday. Just get on with it. No excuses.
  15. You can do it through illness (although probably not serious illness – seek medical advice, blah blah blah.) I did it with a nasty chill. Yeah, sure I was sweating like a fat man in a sauna, but it was worth it for the achievement.
  16. But don’t beat yourself up about it. It is better to enjoy it and finish it than to make yourself miserable and fail. If you fail at one level, just repeat it the next week.
  17. Or change the regime. I failed twice on Week 6 Level 2 and couldn’t face doing it a third time so I just switched to Week 6 Level 3 – much harder. To get through it I increased the length of time between reps and just about got there. The next week I did my first hundred. Mess around with the regime to suit you, but make sure you stick by the goals you set.
  18. The ‘6 weeks’ claim is just a target. It took me until Day 1 of Week 9 to get to 100 consecutive press ups. Just keep going.
  19. Don’t stop when you get to a hundred. Just keep going.
  20. Invest in new shirts for your new arms.
  21. Just do it.
  22. When you’ve done your hundred, start on the ‘Two Hundred Sit-Ups’ regime 🙂