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 Q: I am a 50 year old male teacher and have thoroughly enjoyed my job and believe I have coped well with all the changes that have been thrust upon me. Recently I have begun to feel generally 'fed-up' and whilst I do not think I have reached the stress stage, I know that if I don't do something a bit different that stress will affect me. I have a friend who has told me that hard physical exercise might help. What do you think?

A: We do not recommend that you make an immediate start on any hard physical exercise if you have a pre-existing medical condition. We suggest that if you have not, that you begin with a light programme which might include more walking, swimming or even housework! You may benefit from joining a gym where you will normally be given an assessment, which will include questions on your existing lifestyle, together with various body measurements. Following this a programme will be set for you.

Hard physical exercise can have a number of benefits to the individual as far as tension and stress are concerned. It appears that exercise :

(i) reduces a sudden increase in tension or stress;

(ii) forces life's stresses to the back of the mind through concentrating on the physical exercise, and thus benefits both mind and body;

(iii) through stretching the muscles helps to remove accumulated tensions;

(iv) when taken on a regular basis encourages the body to produce soothing and healing hormones called endorphins - the body's own version of opiates. These hormones help heal ills and make the person feel better;

(v) improves general health and fitness and increases resistance stress and reduces the susceptibility to stress-induced illness;

(vi) on a regular basis causes lower levels of production of epinephrine (adrenalin), and less dramatic blood pressure and heart rate rises during ordinary types of everyday stress. This results in regular exercisers being less likely to suffer from heart disease.

We do emphasise that before you do this that you undertake some professional guidance, either from a gym, or your own GP. Too much exercise, too soon and the wrong type can be as deadly as the stress you are trying to avoid.

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