Written By: Megan DeLuca Megan DeLuca, MEd, CPT
PTS Fitness Blogger
- Exercise is a form of physical stress. Can physical stress relieve mental stress?
Regular aerobic exercise will bring remarkable changes to your body, your metabolism, your heart, and your mood. It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress. It’s a common experience among endurance athletes and has been verified in clinical trials that have successfully used exercise to treat anxiety disorders and clinical depression. If athletes and patients can experience psychological benefits from exercise, so can you.
- How can exercise help alleviate problems as difficult as anxiety and depression?
The mental benefits of aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Endorphins are responsible for the “runner’s high” and for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many hard workouts.
Behavioral factors also contribute to the emotional benefits of exercise. As your waistline shrinks and your strength and endurance increase, your self-image will improve. You’ll not only have better balance and structural control but more pride and self-confidence, too. Your renewed energy level will help you succeed in many tasks, and the discipline of regular exercise will help you achieve other important healthy lifestyle goals.
- What types of exercise are best for reducing stress?
Almost any type of exercise will help. Using large muscle groups in a rhythmic, repetitive fashion works best. Walking and jogging are prime examples. Even a simple 20-minute stroll can clear the mind and reduce stress. But some people prefer vigorous workouts that burn stress along with calories. And the same stretching exercises that help relax your muscles after a hard workout will help relax your mind as well.
- How often should I exercise for optimal benefits?
You should exercise nearly every day. That means 30 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise such as walking or 15 to 20 minutes of vigorous exercise. Aim to walk at least two miles a day, or do the equivalent amount of another activity. You can do it all at once or in 10-15 minute chunks if that fits your schedule better. Add a little strength training and stretching 2-3 times a week, and you’ll have an excellent, balanced program for health and stress reduction.