As a writer there are many challenges that can result in you losing focus and your ability to write along with it. Writers who are perfectly healthy may struggle with issues of mental clarity and writer's block caused by stress from worry over family issues, the Covid-19 pandemic, shortages at the groceries stores and even the political elections. However, there is a surefire and proven way for writers to deal with all the stresses of modern day life. Exercise.
Many people mistakenly think of the bran functioning independently from the body. However, this is not possible. As the brain is part of the body, anything the body experiences will affect the brain and vice versa. A plethora of clinical studies performed by various groups over many decades have all shown conclusively that, in addition to improving your physical health, exercise lowers metal stress caused by external factors that are very often beyond your control.
A study performed at John Hopkins University found that people who get adequate amounts of regular exercise are over three times more productive at work than those who don’t exercise regularly. Another study at Cornell University showed that people who didn’t get adequate amounts of exercise were over twice as likely to suffer from bouts of anxiety and depression.
Exercise Eliminates Harmful Hormones
One of the main mechanisms through which exercise reduces stress is by reducing the stress hormone cortisol. When people are under stress the body produces large amounts of cortisol to help the body deal with the added strain it is being placed under. The main reason the body produces this hormone is in preparation for going into “flight or fight” mode. This is a mechanism left over from when humans had to face many threats in their daily fight for survival. Cortisol helps you either fight off or escape from an attacker. However, if you are under prolonged stress and the body does not go into flight or fight mode to burn off the cortisol, then the hormone builds up in your system. The effects of a built up cortisol can cause health issues and decrease mental acuity.
Exercise Increases Beneficial Hormones
Another way exercise helps to alleviate stress is by producing what are called “feel-good” hormones. This sensation is commonly referred to as “runners high.” During exercise the body produces natural opioids, namely the monoamine neurotransmitter serotonin. The body produces these natural opioids to keep the body from feeling any minor discomfort caused by exercise. However, these natural opioids also produce a calming effect and help increase mental clarity.
Clinical studies have shown serotonin to increase mood and monoamine neurotransmitters have often been prescribed for patients dealing with more severe mood disorders, like depression. A study conducted at Harvard University sought to determine if exercise was a better way to deal with stress than meditation. Researchers studied two groups for a 30-day period and found that the people who exercised saw a significant increase in mood that lasted for hours after exercising. However, the participants in the meditation group only saw a reduction in stress while they were actively engaged in meditation, with no lasting effect once the meditation secession had ended.
How Much Exercise Do You Need?
This is not necessarily an easy question to answer as it depends on many factors. These factors can include you age, weight, your current level of physical conditioning and how much stress you are under. A good rule of thumb is to exercise until you begin to feel better, without overdoing it.
Remember that effects of exercise is cumulative. So, the next time you are feeling blocked try going for a run, swim, a bike ride or even just a long walk. While you will most likely notice some immediate effect, it may take a few workout sessions before you notice any lasting improvement.
I just recently started exercising in order to lower stress and improve my writing productivity. This is a workout from Oct 22, 2020. I was also making bacon at the same time. Some days are busier than others.