Exercise to Combat Stress

Photo Credit: Shinealight PD 2006

Stress is something that is a fact of life for most people. Stress can have serious negative effects on your mind and your body. People with high levels of untreated stress may suffer from headaches, inability to concentrate, insomnia and even body aches and pains. Reduce the amount of stress in your life if possible. Set aside some quiet time for yourself so you can unwind, and exercise. Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and combat the effects of stress. Exercise will also increase your overall fitness and improve your sense of accomplishment and well-being. You will probably lose a few pounds, too.
Physical exertion causes your brain to produce extra neurotransmitters, or endorphins. Endorphins cause you to feel good. They produce a sense of well-being and happiness. You don’t have to run 10 miles or lift weights for an hour to experience the good feeling produced by endorphins. A brisk walk or a jog for 30 minutes, 20 minutes of swimming laps in a pool, a game of tennis or half an hour of dance aerobics can stimulate your brain to release endorphins and help you feel better. You should notice a marked improvement in your mood following some moderate exercise. In addition to the endorphins in your system, you can feel more confident and less anxious. 
Stress can keep you awake at night. Regular exercise also helps improve sleep. Most people need about 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night to function at peak performance during the day. If stress is keeping you awake, you may have difficulty concentrating, suffer headaches and feel excessively tired. These problems then increase your stress, which continues to interfere with your sleep. Break the cycle by dedicating at least 30 minutes each day to exercise. Drop your briefcase when you walk in the door and put on your bike helmet and ride for a half hour. 
See your doctor for a complete physical if you have not exercised in a long time. Start out slowly to avoid injury and sore muscles that discourage you from exercising. A personal fitness trainer can help you design a stress-busting exercise program that fits with your schedule and fitness level. Thirty minutes of moderate intensity exercise every other day can relieve the unpleasant symptoms of stress.

For more information about stress and its effect on your body, see:
Mayo Clinic, Stress Symptoms: Effects On Your Body, Feelings and Behavior