Can exercise really reduce stress?

Find out whether there’s any link to exercise and stress, what affect exercise has on the body, and try out a few ideas to stress less…

Photo: Woman with head in her hands at her desk.

Stress is when we need exercise the most.

We often hear that exercise can help us lose weight, get strong, and keep fit. Physically, we know it helps because we can see it and feel it. But can it really help us reduce stress?

Your heart is pumping in your ears. Your hands are clammy. Sweat is rolling down the side of your forehead. You struggle to breathe. Thoughts are sprinting for gold medal position in your mind.

Bodies in constant fight or flight mode

The caveman days where we hunted for our food are long gone. Or are they?

Our bodies are pumping with adrenalin, that same hormone that spurred our ancestors to chase after deer and rabbits (and away from lions!) In those days, the adrenalin would dissipate as we enjoyed our catch, and our bodies returned to it’s normal state of calm.

These days, our stress remains and adrenalin levels keep pumping through our body, long after the hunt is over. We are constantly in flight or flight mode.

You may have heard that exercise can reduce stress. But does it?

The answer is Yes!

The link between exercise and stress

There is a strong link between exercise and mood, often called the ‘mood-exercise connection’. This means that exercise counteracts the negative affects that stress can have on our body as it affects the part of our brains that regulate emotions and mood.

Regular exercise can reduce anxiety. When you exercise, your body produces the same fight or flight response that is triggered in stressful situations – feelings of anxiety and panic, along with increased heart rate and heavy sweating.

Over the long term, your body links this response with safety, rather than danger (stress).

It has also been found that exercise makes a difference over the long term with people who have depression. It reduces the affects of it, and also helps people to avoid a return to depression.

Command and conquer stress 

Do you ever feel that exercise is the last thing you want to do when you’re stressed? That there are not enough hours in the day to get through the pile of work on your desk?

And then there’s the 1 hour commute home, pick up groceries (or kids), cook dinner, feed the household, rush through dinner yourself, and work a bit more to prepare for tomorrow.

You can barely put your feet up before you have to go to bed. And do it all over again tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that. All the days start to roll into one…

Your adrenalin is working overtime, your body can’t get out of fight or flight mode. You have a headache, aches and pains, tension in your neck and back.

How could you possibly fit in, let alone want to do exercise on a day like this? It’s the last thing you want to do. It’s stressful just thinking about it!

But stress is when we most need exercise…

Exercise: Doctor’s order’s

Exercise reduces the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. And boosts the hormone serotonin, so you get a better night’s sleep.

It can put you in a different headspace, and help you release all those frustrations that have built up.

How good does it feel to punch out every ounce of your anger on a punching bag? Or breathe out all your worries in a downward dog? Or run so long and hard that you can’t even remember what you were stressed about?

Goodbye aches and pains!

Exercise eases tension in the body which cause stress-related pains and aches such as backpain, headaches, and neck pain.

Exercise to feel good

Exercise stimulates production of the ‘feel good’ hormone endorphins. Who doesn’t want to feel good?!

Endorphins are a natural painkiller, encourages a better immune system, loads us up on positivity, and boosts our appetite (don’t be afraid of eating, it’s a good thing!)

Still not convinced?

Endorphins will boost your sex life!

Yes you heard right. Endorphins will boost your sex life!

Exercise can change your life

Think of the last time you dropped a few kilos, adored your lean, mean body in the mirror, and felt fit, strong, and full of bounce!

How good did it feel?

I’ll bet you walked around loud and proud, loving the way clothes fit on you, and generally felt on top of the world!

And that is what exercise can do. It can:

  • boost your confidence and self-image
  • give you a stronger sense of pride
  • clear your mind
  • help you achieve goals
  • provide a sense of accomplishment
  • connect you to other people
  • give you a healthy dose of fresh air and the sunshine vitamin D
  • add more meaning to your life.

Get your body moving

It’s pretty simple. Get your body moving!

Aerobic exercise is great for head as well as heart. It stimulates the mind, and helps us focus and keep calm – through the exhilaration of a heart pumping workout!

Strange but true…

Weights and mind-body exercises are also helpful to build strength and focus. Do aerobic exercise, weights, mind-body activities by yourself, in a group, inside, outside, to music, without music – whatever you enjoy and will get you moving!

Need a few exercise ideas?

  • Dancing
  • Running
  • Skipping
  • Climbing stairs
  • Cycling
  • Bushwalking
  • Rowing
  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Power walking
  • Step class
  • Pilates
  • Circus class

The possibilities are endless!

Finding it difficult to fit it in? Here are 5 easy ways to fit exercise into your day and a Simple 15 minute workout.

In summary

Regular exercise is the perfect prescription for stress. Take it every day to look good, feel great, sleep well, and stress less!


If you need a bit of motivation to get you started, give us a ring!

Beyond Fitness Personal Training