When you've had one of those days -- a truly, terrible parade of screw-ups and stress - what's your first move when you finally manage to escape the office? If you're anything like me, I'm going to guess your first reflex is to grab a drink or the TV remote.
But while a Netflix binge or a glass of wine might be momentarily soothing, a new study suggests that if you really want to eliminate the ill effects of your stressful day, the right choice (hard as it may be) is to head to the gym.
Your stressful job could kill you unless you do this.
This latest research from a team of Swedish and Swiss sports scientists looked at the fitness, cardiovascular health, and self-reported stress levels of 200 Swedish employees. (Hat tip to Science of Us for the pointer.) Unsurprisingly, they found that having a high-stress job was linked with risk factors for heart disease. Popular opinion is right: crazy pressure at work can push you towards a heart attack.
But the researchers also found something more interesting. While overall a stressful job was linked with poor heart health, the negative effects of high-pressure work were much reduced if a person had a high level of fitness. For instance, stress and high cholesterol tend to go together, but not, it seems, if you're a regular exerciser.
Or, as the research release puts it, "among the stressed employees, there were particularly large differences between individuals with a high, medium, and low fitness levels."
The takeaway couldn't be clearer (even if it might not be what you want to hear after a tough day at the office): for those with high-stress jobs, exercise is even more essential. That might not be wildly surprising, but according to the researchers it bears repeating as people often feel least like exercising when they could benefit from it most.
"Above all, these findings are significant because it is precisely when people are stressed that they tend to engage in physical activity less often," commented Markus Gerber of the University of Basel, one of the researchers who participated in the study.
What's your go-to relaxation activity after a truly stressful day?