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How Exercise Helps Reduce Stress

Published January 11, 2019 (Revised: December 11, 2019) Read Time: 5 minutes
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

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<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context":"http://schema.org", "@type":"BlogPosting", "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Ben Kissam, BS" }, "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "Warrior Made", "logo": { "@type": "ImageObject", "url": "https://www.warriormade.com", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/12/how-does-exercise-reduce-stress-thumbnail-0046.jpg" } }, "headline":"How Exercise Helps Reduce Stress", "datePublished":"2019-01-11", "dateModified": "2019-12-11", "description":"If you exercise regularly, you know it has a powerful effect on your mood. In fact, one of the main reasons some people workout is because they feel less stressed, and even happier, when they do.", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2019/12/how-does-exercise-reduce-stress-thumbnail-0046.jpg" } </script> <script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "https://schema.org", "@type": "FAQPage", "mainEntity": [{ "@type": "Question", "name": "How does exercise help deal with stress?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Physical activity helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression by improving self-esteem and cognitive brain function.<br>Consider what the science says about exercise and stress:<br>A 2013 study from Frontiers in Psychiatry states that exercise improves brain function in several different capacities (mood enhancement, anxiety relief, and even brain cell regeneration). Not only that, but regular exercise reduces mortality rate by 30 percent. This suggests working out regularly leads to longer, healthier lives. <br>A 2012 study in the British Journal of Pharmacology called exercise a drug, referring to its ability to improve physical health, alter pain perception, reduce stress, and cure diseases. <br>Sports Medicine found that despite its broad definition (stress could mean life events, work struggles, family problems, and more), higher stress levels can actually cause you to work out less. This suggests the importance of having an established workout routine, as prolonged periods of inactivity may make it harder to start again.<br>How exactly does exercise alleviate stress? One way is the release of certain hormones like endorphins, which we'll discuss in the next section." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "How does exercise reduce anxiety?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Like stress, physical activity also has a positive effect on the disruptions in the brain that are thought to cause anxiety.<br>The causes of anxiety are varied, and new findings surface frequently. But many mood and anxiety disorders can be traced back to disruptions in your brain chemistry, such as:<br>A hormone (a chemical in your body that tells your nervous system to act a certain way) is out of balance.<br>A neurotransmitter (a substance at the end of nerves that passes signals to and from different parts of the brain) isn't firing properly.<br>Along with the physical benefits, exercise can help level out hormones and regulate neurotransmitters." } }, { "@type": "Question", "name": "What type of exercise is best for stress?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Any physical activity can be beneficial for managing stress. But here's a bit more on which types of exercise are best for certain situations.<br>High-intensity workouts: Doing a high-intensity interval (HIIT) workout, going for a run, or other forms of heart-healthy cardio help release built up energy. It also warms up the body and decreases stiffness in muscles. Plus, they're great for shedding excess body fat, which can increase confidence and self-image.<br>Yoga: Stretching during yoga helps relax muscles and improves joint range of motion. Many forms also emphasize meditation, body awareness, and breathing. <br>Walking: Low-intensity exercise is underrated for stress relief. Even a short walk helps increase blood flow to muscles, reduce blood pressure, and increase mental alertness." } }] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">How Does Exercise Help Deal With Stress?</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">Endorphins, Exercise, And Stress</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">How Does Exercise Reduce Anxiety?</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">What Type Of Exercise Is Best For Stress?</a></li> <li><a href="#section5">Breathing Exercises And Stress</a></li> <li><a href="#section6">How Exercise Helps Reduce Stress: Wrap Up</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>If you exercise regularly, you know it has a powerful effect on your mood. In fact, one of the main reasons some people workout is because they feel less stressed, and even happier, when they do.</p> <p><i>But how does exercise reduce stress exactly?</i></p> <p>In a nutshell, exercise has numerous physical and psychological effects on your body. Our body responds to physical activity in a way that benefits our muscles, brain, and overall well-being.</p> <p>In this article, you'll learn how exercise helps reduce stress, how hormones play a role in anxiety, and how breathing helps you relax.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/how-exercise-reduces-stress-0046.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/how-exercise-reduces-stress-0046.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/how-exercise-reduces-stress-0046.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/how-exercise-reduces-stress-LR-0046.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="how exercise reduces stress"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <h2>How does exercise help deal with stress?</h2> <p>Physical activity helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression by improving self-esteem and cognitive brain function.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/#i1523-5998-8-2-106-b2" rel="nofollow noreferrer">1</a></sup></p> <p>Consider what the science says about exercise and stress:</p> <ul> <li>A 2013 study from <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/" rel="nofollow noreferrer"><i>Frontiers in Psychiatry</i></a> states that exercise improves brain function in several different capacities (mood enhancement, anxiety relief, and even brain cell regeneration). Not only that, but regular exercise reduces mortality rate by 30 percent. This suggests working out regularly leads to longer, healthier lives. </li> <li>A 2012 study in the <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3448908/" rel="nofollow noreferrer"><i>British Journal of Pharmacology</i></a> called exercise a "drug," referring to its ability to improve physical health, alter pain perception, reduce stress, and cure diseases. </li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3894304/" rel="nofollow noreferrer"><i>Sports Medicine</i></a> found that despite its broad definition (stress could mean life events, work struggles, family problems, and more), higher stress levels can actually cause you to work out less. This suggests the importance of having an established workout routine, as prolonged periods of inactivity may make it harder to start again.</li> </ul> <p><i>How exactly does exercise alleviate stress</i>? One way is the release of certain hormones like endorphins, which we'll discuss in the next section.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <h2>Endorphins, exercise, and stress</h2> <p>Endorphins are a group of hormones that boost your mood.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6091217" rel="nofollow noreferrer">2</a></sup> </p> <p>If you've ever felt amazing after a great workout, endorphins were likely part of the reason why. They are responsible for the term ‘runner's high,’ a sort of euphoria you experience after a challenging, satisfying bout of exercise.</p> <p>Studies show endorphins not only make you feel good, but also:</p> <ul> <li>Alter your perception of pain (making them a great tool for pain management<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3104618/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">3</a></sup></li> <li>Increase confidence</li> <li>Improve psychological strength and resilience<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4449495/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">4</a></sup></li> </ul> <p>Other feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin* are also elevated during exercise.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4703784/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">5</a></sup>) </p> <p><i>*Dopamine helps reduce depression, while serotonin has several benefits like controlling appetite, improving mood, and boosting memory.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5864293/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">6</a> <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK535451/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">7</a></sup></i></p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/exercise-reducing-anxiety-0046.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/exercise-reducing-anxiety-0046.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/exercise-reducing-anxiety-0046.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/exercise-reducing-anxiety-LR-0046.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="exercise reducing anxiety"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section3"> <h2>How does exercise reduce anxiety?</h2> <p>Like stress, physical activity also has a positive effect on the disruptions in the brain that are thought to cause anxiety.</p> <p>The causes of anxiety are varied, and new findings surface frequently. But many mood and anxiety disorders can be traced back to disruptions in your brain chemistry, such as:<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3684250/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">8</a></sup></p> <ul> <li>A <strong>hormone</strong> (a chemical in your body that tells your nervous system to act a certain way) is out of balance.</li> <li>A <strong>neurotransmitter</strong> (a substance at the end of nerves that passes signals to and from different parts of the brain) isn't firing properly.</li> </ul> <p>Along with the physical benefits, exercise can help level out hormones and regulate neurotransmitters.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4061837/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">9</a></sup></p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/stress-reducing-exercises-0046.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/stress-reducing-exercises-0046.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/stress-reducing-exercises-0046.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/stress-reducing-exercises-LR-0046.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="stress reducing exercises"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section4"> <h2>What type of exercise is best for stress?</h2> <p><i>Any</i> physical activity can be beneficial for managing stress. But here's a bit more on which types of exercise are best for certain situations.</p> <ul> <li><strong>High-intensity workouts</strong>: Doing a high-intensity interval (HIIT) workout, going for a run, or other forms of heart-healthy cardio help release built up energy. It also warms up the body and decreases stiffness in muscles.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9694408" rel="nofollow noreferrer">10</a></sup> Plus, they're great for shedding excess body fat, which can increase confidence and self-image.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2991639/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">11</a> <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3778571/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">12</a></sup></li> <li><strong>Yoga</strong>: Stretching during yoga helps relax muscles and improves joint range of motion. Many forms also emphasize meditation, body awareness, and breathing. See "Breathing exercises and stress" in the next section for more on how these help alleviate stress.</li> <li><strong><a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/10-reasons-why-walking-is-the-best-exercise" rel="noreferrer">Walking</a></strong>: Low-intensity exercise is underrated for stress relief. Even a short walk helps increase blood flow to muscles, reduce blood pressure, and increase mental alertness.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28840638" rel="nofollow noreferrer">13</a></sup></li> </ul> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section5"> <h2>Breathing exercises and stress</h2> <p>If you'd like to place a greater emphasis on habits that reduce stress but don't have time to work out each day, doing some simple breath work can have a positive effect similar to exercise.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27995346" rel="nofollow noreferrer">14</a></sup>.</p> <p>Breathing, like working out, helps reduce tension in muscles and triggers other natural relaxation responses in the body.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5455070/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">15</a></sup>.</p> <p>Belly breathing, where your inhale causes the diaphragm to expand rather than the chest, seems to be especially effective.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5909014/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">16</a></sup>.</p> <p>Not coincidentally, belly breathing is used during certain exercises, such as hollow holds or <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/abdominal-bracing/" rel="noreferrer">abdominal bracing</a>. Diaphragmatic breathing isn't just good for relaxation, but also for strengthening the deep core muscles responsible for stabilizing your spine.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5276765/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">17</a></sup>.</p> <p>You might also try progressive muscle relaxation, which is described below.</p> <h3>Progressive muscle relaxation</h3> <p>Proven to reduce anxiety, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) combines physical effort and breathing.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4397496/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">18</a></sup>. And it's quite simple to do.</p> <ul> <li>Lie on your back (in a bed or on the couch is fine).</li> <li>Take a few deep, controlled breaths through your diaphragm.</li> <li>Start by flexing all the muscles in your feet and ankles. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds, then release completely.</li> <li>Continue taking deep breaths through your belly.</li> <li>Slowly move your way up the body—to the calves, hamstrings and quads, your abs and lower back, and then finally, your chest, shoulders, and arms.</li> </ul> <p>You can use PMR after a workout, on rest days, or as a tool to reduce stress when you don't have time to exercise.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section6"> <h2>How exercise helps reduce stress: wrap up</h2> <p>The physical benefits of exercise are well known, but the psychological benefits are just as plentiful. Working out helps reduce stress by reducing feel-good hormones, loosening up stiff muscles, balancing out chemicals in the brain, and increasing confidence.</p> <p>The science shows that regular exercise not only alleviates stress, but the opposite is true, too. Not working out increases stress, and all that built-up stress can make it hard to get into a regular fitness routine.</p> <p>And if you can't get to the gym, try doing some belly breathing or body awareness drills like progressive muscle relaxation.</p> <p>By now, the relationship between the mind, the physical body, and your psychological well-being is well established. Movement does the body—and brain—a whole lot of good.</p> </section> </article>

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