Being a human can be hard. It comes with many ups and downs, and everything in between! Having a quality set of tools in your toolbox can make life not only more manageable but enjoyable!
If you want to not just survive, but thrive, you have to know how to handle what life throws at you, aka stress management tools. Physical activity is one of the most reliable tools you can lean on. Sometimes the hardest part is getting started – so we’re here to offer a little motivation.
Wondering just how exercise reduces stress? Keep reading to learn the science behind it, and how to get moving!
Why Exercise Reduces Stress & How to Regularly Maintain Low-Stress Levels
You’ve heard it your whole life – get regular physical activity, exercise, move your body – and for good reason!
While it’s not necessarily a cure-all, staying physically active doesn’t just offer stress relief, it’s also vital to your overall health and well-being.
Whether it’s aerobic exercise or strength training, surfing or skiing, yoga or climbing – physical activity is one of the key ways you can reduce stress and stay healthy.
The health benefits of exercise are seemingly endless. Getting moving can boost cognitive function, give you more energy, improve your immune system, enhance your mood, support heart health, and so much more.
Exercise builds on itself, meaning the effects are cumulative. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Not only that, but your overall stress response seems to decrease, and life seems that much more blissful. How’s that for motivation?
We love to dig into the science behind all things health, so let's dig deeper into stress management by means of exercise.
The Science, Simply Explained
If you’re feeling skeptical or just curious, science is here to back up this theory. Just how does exercise reduce stress?
As with anything having to do with the human body, the relationship between stress reduction and exercise is layered and complex. Don’t let that intimidate you though.
It just means that physical activity helps you on many different levels, and it can be difficult to isolate just what’s contributing to your stress relief.
One of the biggest ways that exercise can reduce stress is by helping with hormone regulation. When stress levels are high, it means that your body has heightened levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
When out of balance, these hormones can also contribute to numerous health issues like thyroid conditions, cardiovascular disorders, and mental health issues. But back to exercise.
When you exercise, your body produces endorphins, which are natural chemicals that create positive stimulation in your brain.
So, when you exercise when your stress hormone levels are high, your natural happy chemicals go toe-to-toe with your body’s tense chemicals to mitigate them and make you feel better.
But the benefits don't stop there. When you exercise and do something good for your body, you also feel a sense of productivity. That further convinces your brain that everything is going to be okay and helps reduce stress.
It also tends to make you feel more productive in general which can help boost your confidence and motivate you.
If you do group sports or group fitness, you also may experience a positive sense of community and togetherness to further drive away negative feelings of stress. The power of community is incredibly strong, for both your mind and body.
We’ll let the experts break it down even further. According to the Mayo Clinic, physical activity may help increase the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.
Exercise can provide stress relief for your body while imitating effects of stress, such as the flight or fight response, and helping your body and its systems practice working together through those effects.
This can also lead to positive effects in your body—including your cardiovascular, digestive, and immune systems—by helping protect your body from the harmful effects of stress.
It’s great to make it to a workout class or go for a run, but once a month isn’t enough. The other key component to using exercise for stress management is…consistency!
Okay, so now that we have an understanding of the basic science, let’s clear one thing up: When it comes to exercise and stress, consistency is key. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, then you have to maintain some sort of regular schedule that allows you to stay physically active.
You never know what life is going to throw at you. Some of the most stressful things you might encounter seem to come out of nowhere. Regular exercise and endorphin release will help in reducing stress and keeping it at bay when frustrating or tense situations pop up.
Just because you’re creating a routine, doesn’t mean it has to be boring. You don’t have to do the same exercise over and over again, unless you want to, of course. It may benefit your body more to switch it up and have a few different go-to’s.
Staying consistent can be easier said than done, so here are a few tips on staying physically active:
- Find something (or a few things) that you love doing.
- Have an accountability buddy.
- Create a set schedule.
- Book your classes ahead of time so you have to go.
- Join a team sport.
- Create a rewards system for yourself (think sticker chart from when you were a kid).
- Remember how good it makes you feel!
If you feel good after working out once, imagine how great you’ll feel doing it regularly for two weeks. A month. Six months. That will make a huge difference in your overall well-being! Not to mention the many other long-term benefits of regular exercise.
Additional Benefits of Exercise to Help Manage Stress
Science may be able to explain why exercise and stress are linked on a biological level, but at the end of the day, what matters most is your lived experience. What sort of health benefits and tangible effects does physical activity have on your everyday well-being?
Exercise is one of the many self-care tools you can use to reduce stress and feel better overall. It’s a simple equation: The better you feel, the better you’re going to be at stress management. What other benefits can you look forward to when you start to move your body on a regular basis?
You’re balancing a lot in your life – work, school, relationships, a social life, and of course, yourself. All that information can get jumbled up and cloud your brain a bit. Brain fog and lack of clarity can be a frustrating downside of stress.
Do you ever feel like your brain just isn’t working in the way you need it to? Then exercise may be the answer! When people create self-care plans, one of their main goals is often to feel more at peace and clearer.
Remember when we talked about the process of endorphin release? The same hormonal cascade that promotes stress relief also helps boost cognitive function. This is an umbrella term for the different mental processes your brain is in charge of like memory, decision making, speech, attention, perception, and much more!
It doesn’t take much either! If you’re feeling stumped or have writer's block, some deep breathing exercises along with a fast walk around your neighborhood can help you get unstuck. For improved mental clarity, of course, consistency is still the key.
Improved Quality of Life and Longevity
You’re here to live life to the fullest right? To feel the best you can and do all the things that fill you up? Well, exercise can help you do just that – even if it doesn’t feel enjoyable at the moment.
Your body is a complex network of different systems that work hard to keep you moving and grooving. Sometimes you have to put in a little bit of work to help move things along and working their best.
Physical exercise gets your body’s systems, like the cardiovascular and immune systems, primed and improved – so that you can enjoy your life to the max.
All these systems work together to make you who you are.
Consistently taking care of your body and mind will make you clearer and happier on a more regular basis. This helps to make life in general better, setting you up for a healthier future by reducing the risk of encountering health problems like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, anxiety disorders, migraines, and so on later in life.
This is your life, you get to choose to take the initiative to make the changes you need in order to thrive.
Another huge benefit of regular exercise? Clearer and healthier skin. Stress and acne go hand in hand. The hormones and inflammation that can happen from stress also can lead to increased breakouts. You’re also more likely to engage in stressful behaviors that can make your skin worse like picking your skin and eating overly processed foods.
The less stress you have, the fewer your chances of experiencing stress-related acne. That’s not the only way that exercise can help boost the health of your skin. Sweat promotion from exercise also helps open up pores and flush out toxins. This helps prevent breakouts from happening, and also makes your skin look and feel healthier thanks to increased circulation.
Skincare isn’t just about what you put on your face. A holistic skincare routine means understanding how all the ways you take care of yourself help contribute to the health of your skin.
And last but not least, another incredible benefit of exercise is that it helps you get a long-restful sleep.
For most people, when you’re not getting your best sleep, you’re not feeling your best. You may be irritable, have extra brain fog, and just not feel totally with it. When you reduce stress through physical activity, you’re also helping your body get better sleep.
Regular exercise lowers your resting heart rate and physically exhausts us, which helps us experience a better night’s sleep. Better sleep means a better stress response, more energy, and feeling better overall.
You see how all these things are tied together?
Start Today: 4 Exercises to Do Anywhere at Any Skill Level to Reduce Stress
This has been a whole lot of talk, but now it’s time to take action. Exercise can feel intimidating if you aren’t super active to begin with, but you have to start somewhere.
Luckily there is something for everyone. Dabble around, try different things, and see what works best for you. Need some inspiration? We’ve got a few ideas for you.
Walking, Running, Biking, Swimming
Walking, running, biking, and swimming are all great forms of exercise that reduce stress. These are some of the top aerobic exercises, aka workouts that make you use oxygen.
These workouts have another thing in common – they’re forms of cardio. Cardiovascular workouts reduce stress and boost your heart health. There’s a cardio workout available no matter what level of fitness you’re at. Even just a quick walk during your lunch break is a great start.
Yoga or Tai Chi
Yoga and Tai Chi are unique workouts, but ones that both utilize deep breathing and intentional movements to help reduce stress. These can be gentle approaches to exercise that almost anyone can do.
Of course, there are different kinds of yoga out there. Some can be really effective workouts that engage all the major muscle groups.
Dancing is many people’s favorite form of physical activity. Whether it’s going to a show, putting music on in your living room, or doing a dance workout class, dancing allows you to get some aerobic exercise and reduce stress while having a whole lot of fun.
Strength training can involve using weights, your body weight, or another tool or technique to help strengthen your major muscle groups. These exercises help increase strength, bone health, energy levels, and much more. Plus you can get a whole lot done in a short amount of time.
Get Up and Get Moving
You want to feel better, help with stress management, and enjoy your life more overall? Well what are you waiting for? You don’t need to train for the Olympics or a marathon to reap the benefits of physical activity on stress reduction.
Whether it’s five minutes or an hour, every little bit counts. So get up and get moving, and get ready to see major results!