How Exercise Can Reduce Stress

Easy ways to manage stress by creating healthier habits

Everybody gets stressed. It’s human nature. In fact, some stress is even considered good stress because it can improve performance and productivity. It only becomes a problem that can negatively affect your health when you experience too much of it on a frequent basis.

Many people don’t realize that stress directly affects our health and wellbeing. Cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, headaches, back and neck pain, and sleep problems are all considered stress-related illnesses. Not to mention, studies have shown that stress also impacts our dietary choices and sleep habits. 39% of American Psychological Association Stress in America™ survey respondents said that they overeat or turn to unhealthy foods because of stress and 29% reported skipping meals.

If you frequently experience symptoms like headaches, sleep disturbance, muscle tension, irritability, lack of concentration, fatigue, change in dietary habits, upset stomach, anxiety, or frequent colds you could be suffering from episodic or chronic stress. The good news is, though, that exercise can help you manage and reduce it.

Studies have consistently shown that a calming effect is achieved after 20-30 minute bouts of aerobic exercise and that the effect tends to last for a few hours afterwards, too. The exact science behind this experience hasn’t been completely uncovered yet, but scientists believe it’s because of a hormone response that activates neurotransmitters in the brain associated with improved mood and behavior which helps the body better deal with stress.

Exercise also serves as a sort of “time-out” from stressors which can be an effective stress management technique. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, research regarding resistance training and stress reduction is limited, however because the short-term effects of taking a break have proven to be beneficial it is also a recommended form of stress management.

Aside from exercising, the ACSM also offers general guidelines that you can use to help manage stress. There are three different types of stress and the first step in helping to resolve it involves identifying what type of stress you’re experiencing.

  • Acute stress is associated with minor everyday circumstances that cause you to feel tension for a short period of time. Once the situation is resolved you feel calm and collected again.
  • Acute episodic stress involves stress that is experienced on a consistent basis as a result of ongoing situations like overcommitting at work or constantly worrying about money. Those who experience acute episodic stress are prone to develop symptoms of stress that can have a negative impact on overall health and wellbeing.
  • Chronic stress is a result of constant and sometimes multiple major life stressors. In the 2011 American Psychological Association Stress in America™ survey respondents said that money, work, and the economy were the biggest factors contributing to chronic stress.

After you identify your stressor and make a plan to address it the next most important step is to get adequate rest by committing to a consistent sleep and wake cycle which will help prevent fatigue and maintain energy levels.

Next you should come up with a time management plan that will help you fit exercise into your new routine. The fourth step involves committing to healthier eating habits which may include coming up with a “healthy eating plan” in order to avoid unhealthy weight changes and maintain energy levels.

The fifth and final step suggests assembling a support system of close friends and family; people that you trust and who you can talk to that will help you solve problems and keep everything in perspective.

Stress may be inevitable, but it doesn’t have to take a toll on your health. By implementing an exercise routine and establishing some of the healthy habits mentioned above you can significantly reduce the amount of stress in your life and as a result, improve your overall health and wellbeing.