The physiology of stress presents immediate, intermediate, and prolonged effects on the body. The importance of understanding this physiology becomes evident when necessary steps are needed to be taken to deal with the symptoms they produce. Stress events contribute to the onset of disease; worsen the symptoms of a current disease; and can cause the relapse of disease in recovered individuals or the recurrence of symptoms where diseases are being controlled. The medical literature reports numerous findings linking disease and stress. Some estimates say that 40-80% of all visits to the doctor may be directly related to stress.
Directly involved with stress is the nervous system, the endocrine system (body energy levels), and the immune system (fights off infection). During stress (physical or emotional) the “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system releases Epinephrine (popularly known as Adrenaline) and Cortisol. While epinephrine prepares the body for high performance, it weakens the immune system. Some side effects can include headaches, tachycardia (significant increase in heart rate), hypertension, palpitations, tremors, and difficulty in breathing. Cortisol stimulates the production of extra nutrients such as glucose and fatty acids to help cope with the stress. However, raised cortisol levels are associated with a suppressed immune system, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and aging.
The key point is that the stress response is designed to move us from a threat. In today’s age however we generally no longer have to run away or fight off the attacking animal. Our stress now is more associated with bills, work, family, etc. We no longer channel stress by moving our body out of harm’s way. We tend to keep it internal. Without means to reduce this stress associated hormones remain and begin to affect physiological systems. When the body works to cope with stress, it produces byproducts. If these byproducts are not dealt with in a productive way, they result in all out physiological reactions or illness and disease.
Stress has also been shown to accelerate the pace of brain aging and can result in the loss of neural function and even loss of brain cells. Evidence suggests that glucocorticoids (Cortisol) can produce cognitive deficits and these effects are most pronounced as we get older.
When we practice martial arts, we go through a series of movements that are intended for meditation, strength, flexibility, endurance and combat. Because in our modern world, most of us don’t need to fend off attacking animals, our brain, identifying the movements that we perform, responds in the same physiological manner without the reality of dealing with the threat. To the brain and the body makes no difference, real or fantasy, it responds! The hormonal stress response is utilized as it was intended. That is why martial arts training is the great stress equalizer, so go ahead, give it a shot and discover the great benefits that martial arts training has to offer!