Exercise is a great stress modulator. Stress is anything you say it is, and we all feel it differently. The things that stress me out may not be worrisome to you at all. Whatever the cause of your stress reaction, it is the healthy mode of operation for our brains, and it was designed to give our brains the tools to function during the fight-or-flight state. When we experience stress, our brains are aroused by adrenaline and focused by the release of dopamine.
When stress becomes overwhelming or chronic, however, it can start to erode the neural pathways that keep our mind connected. The continual release of stress hormones is detrimental to our brains and bodies alike. It is thought that chronic exercise decreases stress by raising the physical and mental stress threshold, elevating self-esteem, and stimulating the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which increases brain plasticity and neuron growth and combats the effects of chronic cortisol exposure.