The Role of Physical Activity in Managing One's Stress
Learn the role of physical activity in managing one's stress and how to get started with physical activity.
You’ve probably heard about the importance of exercise and been told to do it.
And I’m guessing that when you have heard about physical activity, it’s been in the context of weight.
As a health psychologist, I commonly hear people talking about exercise in the context of weight loss as the main benefit.
While physical activity can have benefits for weight loss, it has so many more exciting benefits, such as what it can do for stress, mood, and work performance.
That’s right, physical activity is one of the best things that you can do for stress, emotional health, and physical health.
Integrating and increasing physical activity is not always easy.
But, when we can really understand all the ways that it helps us step into the best versions of ourselves, this is much more likely.
We do this by understanding:
-how physical activity helps with stress
-how physical activity indirectly helps to manage stress
-how to incorporate physical activity into your routine for all the benefits
The Role of Physical Activity in Managing One’s Stress: How It Helps
Exercise causes physiological changes in the body that directly decrease stress. Not only does exercise directly decrease stress, it helps our body learn to better respond to stress.
Exercise results in the following 3 important changes that work to reduce stress:
Exercise has been shown to increase endorphins, the feel good chemicals in the brain.
When we are feeling a release of endorphins, we are less likely to be stressed.
In fact, we are more likely to feel calm, relaxed, and happy.
2) Nervous System Training
Exercise also helps train the nervous system. When our heart rate rises during exercise, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. This is the same nervous system that is activated when stress and anxiety are high.
During exercise, the body also works to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to decrease heart rate, the nervous system responsible for calm and low stress.
This training results in a better response to stress through improved cardiovascular functioning.
A Calm Nervous System for Stress Relief
3) Mindfulness Training
One of the best ways to reduce stress is to engage in mindful practices and to be present in the moment.
In our busy lives, we are constantly multitasking and doing many things at the same time, which can increase stress.
During exercise, we tend to be engaged with what we are doing, making it less likely that we are processing or thinking about stressful and upsetting things.
Focusing on one thing at a time can be helpful for reducing stress and improving mental clarity.
Other Roles of Physical Activity in Managing One’s Stress
Not only does exercise directly decrease stress in the body and mind, it also works indirectly in other important areas of our lives that also decrease stress.
Regular exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality and quantity.
A major source of stress and anxiety is an inability to receive proper sleep at night.
Because exercise can help calm the nervous system, relieve tension, and clear the mind, it can be especially helpful for improving sleep and therefore stress.
Relax the Nervous System for Better Sleep
Exercise has been consistently shown to be one of the best ways to prevent cognitive decline over time. Exercise also helps us improve our attention, focus, and mental clarity in our day-to-day lives.
A large source of stress for individuals is poor attention, focus, and productivity in the workplace.
Because exercise can improve cognitive functioning, stress associated with poor performance decreases when exercise is a consistent part of our lives.
Two Strategies to Increase Productivity and Focus
Immune System Functioning
Exercise has been shown to improve immune system functioning, reducing the rates of illness and chronic conditions.
Dealing with chronic illness and various medical conditions can be very stressful.
Therefore, exercise and its positive benefits for strengthening the immune system can be helpful for reducing stress related to physical health and medical issues.
How to Increase Physical Activity to Manage Stress
People often struggle to increase physical activity due to unrealistic or vague expectations of how this will fit into their busy lives.
The key to success in increasing physical activity is incorporating it into your lifestyle in a way that makes sense for you and will help you with consistency.
Set SMART Goals
Vague goals will make it harder to be successful in increasing your activity and receiving all of the great benefits.
It is important to set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.
Vague goal example: I will exercise this week.
SMART goal: I will swim for 30 minutes on Tues/Thurs morning at 8am.
You see the difference there? Which do you think is more likely to happen?
Make It Fun
Any activity that gets you moving counts. This might be walking, running, biking, swimming, tennis, dancing, or anything else that you enjoy.
If you’re not sure where to start, try a variety of different activities to see what you like best. The more enjoyable it is, the more likely you are to stick to it.
If possible, include friends and family in your workouts to make them more enjoyable.
Work Up to Exercise Recommendations for Adults
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week for optimal heart health, stress reduction, and overall health.
If you’re not quite there yet, no worries. Remember, this is about making it work for you.
Instead, choose goals that will be realistic for you following the SMART goal formula and work your way up there.
Consult with your doctor
Always consult with your medical doctor before making any significant changes to your physical activity.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress, improve sleep, and optimize cognitive performance and work efficiency.
Follow the recommendations today to start to increase exercise in your life and to receive all the great benefits.
Ready to change your lifestyle to decrease stress, improve sleep, and function at your optimal cognitive capacity?
Book a discovery call so we can discuss if my Master Stress Method is a good fit for you to take charge of your life, now.
-----About Dr. Julia
Hi! I'm Dr. Julia. Health psychologist, stress and sleep expert, and creator of the Master Stress Method.
I have worked with thousands of individuals in major hospitals, university medical centers, and primary care settings to improve their stress levels, sleep, and overall emotional and physical well being.
My current focus is helping busy professionals prevent and manage the high stress that is getting in the way of their productivity, mood, sleep, and their ability to reach their full potential.
My Master Stress Method has helped hundreds of stressed out, overwhelmed, and burned out clients significantly reduce their stress and anxiety, improve their sleep, and maximize their productivity in a short time.
I can't wait to help you stop the struggle with stress, for good. Let's chat :)