Exercise and Stress: Exercise Reduces Stress

exercise and stress

Exercise and stress are closely connected. Exercise reduces stress. Whether it is riding a bike, taking a walk or meditative yoga, physical exercise relieves stress by using up the by-products of the stress response.

You probably know that moving your body is one of the best ways to maintain your health, get in better shape and control weight.

But did you know that exercise relieves stress – exercise rids your body of excess muscle tension and uses up accumulated stress hormones.

Getting your body moving is one of the best ways to improve your health and reduce your stress.

By doing something positive for your health, distracting yourself from your worries or boosting your wellbeing and feel-good factor - there are plenty of reasons to take up exercise to reduce stress.

Here we provide a number of benefits to exercise and how you can maintain the motivation to keep on moving.

The benefits of stress relief exercises

When stressed your body activates the stress response – your digestion shuts down, blood moves to the larger muscle groups and your breathing rate quickens – these are just some of the symptoms of stress as your body readies itself to fight or flee from the source of stress.

Now this stress response has served an important function in the survival of the human race.

Our ancestors who narrowly escaped the jaws of a saber-tooth tiger can thank the boost of adrenaline that stopped him being today’s meal.

But surely it is different today? We need stress about as much saber-tooth-hunting gear, right?


It’s just that today, many of the stressors that we face are very different.

Being late for a meeting, the irate boss, a traffic jam or an excessively demanding schedule are common causes of stress and are all capable of activating the same stress response as the saber-tooth tiger.

In essence your body is prepared for action – but to fight or flee from today’s source of stress may not be the optimal response.

Exercise is a great way to relieve some of the by-products of stress – the excess muscle tension and the increased blood sugars.

How exercise reduces stress

Exercise reduces stress in a number of ways. Each time that you exercise your body uses up the pent up energy that the stress response can create - relaxing the muscles and utilizing the stress hormones.

Exercise Pays Off

Many companies are realizing the benefits of introducing exercise into the workforce. Employees take less sick days off from work and are more alert when at work.

This translates into a more productive workforce and a better bottom line for the company.

But more than releasing pent up energy exercise can release endorphins - the body's natural feel good chemicals - into the blood stream. This can enhance feelings of wellbeing and happiness.

However, exercise offers more than just a physiological benefit, exercise can take your mind off problems and provide social support. See the many ways that exercise reduces stress.

There plenty of exercises that you can do to reduce stress. Generally aerobic exercises, such as running, swimming or cycling are the best stress reducers.

However there are a number of other exercises that you can take up.

For example, relaxation yoga exercises combine smooth muscle movements with deep breathing - so they are a great stress reduction exercise.

Remaining motivated with an exercise and stress program

Exercise like doing the dusting the bookshelf is one of those things that are easy to put off. "I don’t have enough time" or "I don’t like getting sweaty" are some common excuses that I hear.

Here are some tips for adhering to a program involving exercise and stress relief.

Caution: always seek your doctor’s advice before starting a new exercise and stress relief regime, particularly if you are older or overweight.

Make your exercise as fun as possible. The more interesting or playful the exercise the more likely that you are going to continue with the exercise. For example, I enjoy running. There is something about the wind in my face, the view of the ocean and the changing scenery that I like and it is a natural exercise for me to do. Finding what is enjoyable will help with combating a lack of motivation in later stages.

Two’s Company. Join a group, exercise with a buddy. Encouragement and group support can be very helpful at the beginning when you are starting to adopt a new exercise habit. It can also be a motivating force on those days when you are not feeling so keen.

Exercise often. Findings indicate that when you exercise often (3-5 times per week) that the physical and psychological benefits can be maximized. If you haven’t exercised for while, check with your doctor first.

Select a time of day. Allocating a time of day for your exercise and stress relief program will make you more likely to avoid putting off the experience. Mornings before school or work are often the easiest to schedule exercise, and research suggests that exercise done before midday leads to greater ratings of subjective happiness and productivity throughout the day.

Take baby steps. Nothing dampens the enthusiasm for exercise more than pushing yourself too hard too early. Start slowly and gradually increase your exercise intensity. Seeing personal exercise and stress relief goals can be a wonderful source of motivation. If you haven’t exercised for while, check with your doctor first.

Warm-up and cool down. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Warming up and cooling down will help to prevent injuries to joints and tendons. If you experience pain along the way please treat the injury immediately.

More Exercise and Stress Reduction Activities

Exercises release excess muscle tension and use up the accumulated by-products of stress. This makes exercise a great stress reduction strategy. Here are a number of other exercise and stress relief techniques that you can use to reduce stress.

Progressive muscle relaxation for stress reduction

progressive muscle relaxation Do you feel stress in your shoulders or neck. These are some of the commons symptoms of stress. Progressive muscle relaxation (or PMR) was developed by Edmund Jacobson in the 1920's to relax his patients. PMR involves the tensing and releasing of different muscle groups and promotes a calming effect. Try this Progressive muscle relaxation script as a stress reduction strategy.

Mindful meditation for stress relief

Not really an exercise for stress, but can be hard work if you have a wandering mind. By bringing a greater awareness to the present moment, mindful meditation has been used for stress reduction. I practice this mindful breathing meditation every morning and find it extremely beneficial for stress reduction and a promotes a mind-body unity.

Relaxation exercises

relaxation techniques Relaxation exercises are a great way to activate the relaxation response. The relaxation response counters the stress response by activating the parasympathetic response. These relaxation techniques replenish your mind and body from the effects of stress.

Monitor your stress

Exercise can be a release valve that drains the excess tension and accumulated stress products out of your mind and body. While exercise can help to reduce your stress, it does not get to the root of stress. If you are not sure where your stress is coming from then it is time to gather objective data with a stress diary. A stress diary will help identify the main causes of stress for you.

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