Can exercise reduce stress?

Exercise is an outstanding stress reducer. I always tell my clients, sweat it all out and leave your stress on the gym floor. That being said, starting a fitness routine can be stressful in itself. Your body will need time to adapt to regular exercise. Be sure to give your body the time it needs to adapt and reap the benefits of your hard work such as more energy, improved sleep patterns, more self confidence, and positive self talk.

Stress includes some or all of the following symptoms: muscle tension, headache, stomach upset, racing heart, high blood pressure, sweating, flushing, dry mouth, and behaviors ranging from aggression to hyperactivity to withdrawal. Stress can occur during a crisis of high impact or during the smaller everyday hassles of life.  Studies have confirmed that exercise reduces and lessens the number of symptoms of stress by providing a short term distraction and increasing feelings of control, which might buffer the impact of stressful events.

In order to study stress reactivity, researchers compared the ability of exercisers and non-exercisers to recover after being subjected to a stressor, such as a timed, frustrating mental activity.  In order to determine the magnitude of their psychological and physiological response to stress, and the amount of time it takes to return to baseline levels, these activities were given either to people who were in shape, or to people following intense exercise.  It is believed that exercise may contribute to a “hardy” personality type, which is a person who can transform or buffer stressful events into less stressful forms by altering their perception of those events and placing less value on them.  In that exercise contributes to a person’s hardiness, it is believed that exercise can lead to a reduction of stress-related illness by buffering reactions to stressful life events.

Picture of yoga exercise
It absolutely can!  There have been studies conducted confirming that regular exercise is associated with reduced stress levels.  There are a host of reasons for this; improved sleep, focused time away from day to day stress, even physiologic factors such as increased endorphin levels.  

In addition, over time you’ll begin to feel better about your overall health which will contribute to a much more positive outlook on other things as well.
Mark Levine
Yes, exercise can reduce your stress. As you start working exercise into your daily routine, exercise starts relieving stress. It doesn't matter whether you're running, biking, stairmaster or strength training. All types of exercise will help reduce your level of stress.

I do not know of any medical proof of that but I can speak from my own personal experience.

My personal experience says yes exercise is the perfect stress reliever!  As as full time personal trainer and dealing with different personalities all day long, I tend to get a little stressed in my mind and body.  I take kickboxing as my ultimate stress reliever.  Beating up the heavy bags makes me feel better.  It is also healthier than the eating that I used to do when I was stressed.

Absolutely, exercise has been shown to dramatically reduce stress levels in the body, and improve mood and feelings of well being. Exercise has been shown to decrease resting heart rate, reduce blood pressure, reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, all of which help to decrease the physiological causes of stress in the body. Exercise has also been shown to release endorphins and catecholamines, which are “feel good” hormones that also help reduce stress and increase feelings of well being. Regular exercise has been shown in numerous studies to be as effective as or more effective than antidepressants and therapy in improving mild to moderate depression. 
Physical activity is often recommended to manage stress. Chronic stress can wreak havoc on multiple systems in your body, and managing it is vital to your heart health. Though researchers do not fully understand why, stress seems to be a risk factor for heart disease. In fact, the more stress you endure, the higher your risk of having a heart attack and dying suddenly from a heart event. 
Regular physical activity can help you combat stress and protect your heart, arteries, and other systems in the body from its cumulative effects. That’s because exercise helps lower blood pressure, releases hormones that contribute to happiness (called endorphins), and provides an outlet for relieving tension and taking your mind off your problems.
If you find you often feel stressed, you may benefit from speaking with your physician, therapist, or other medical professional about an appropriate exercise plan to help you manage your stress levels.
Dr. Kathleen Hall
Preventive Medicine
Research consistently shows that individuals who exercise are more stress resistant than those who don't exercise. Exercise has a relaxing effect upon the mind and body. Exercise lowers the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, your heart rate and blood pressure. When people who regularly exercise are exposed to stress, their heart rates do not rise as much as when people who do not exercise are exposed to stress. Individuals who exercise are not only sick less than nonexercisers, but the severity of their illness is less than nonexercisers. A person who regularly exercises is creating strength and hardiness that produces healing chemicals in the body allowing them to diminish the effects of the stress in their lives.
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Susan S. Blum, MD
Preventive Medicine

Preventive scheduling is the best tip I can give people to reduce the amount of stress in their lives. Most of us make plans knowing full well we are stretching ourselves thin on a particular day. Look at your week and decide NOT to squeeze extra things in, instead, make time for something relaxing.

Schedule relaxation:  find time every day for something relaxing to turn those hormones off. While you can’t always control the stress around you, you do have a say about how it will come into your body and make you sick. You can learn to meditate, listen to a guided visualization, do yoga, or get a massage or acupuncture.

Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine

The immediate effect of exercise is stress on the body. However, with a regular exercise program the body adapts, and exercise becomes an effective stress-reduction technique. With regular exercise, the body becomes stronger, functions more efficiently, and has greater endurance. Exercise is a vital component of a comprehensive stress management program, effective weight loss, and overall good health. People who exercise regularly are much less likely to suffer from fatigue, tension, depression, feelings of inadequacy, and worries. Exercise alone has been demonstrated to have a tremendous effect in terms of improving mood and the ability to handle stressful life situations.

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Michael Bergeron, PhD
Sports Medicine
Yes; people who exercise are less likely to suffer from stress-related mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. In fact, you could say that exercise conveys clear stress “resistance”. However, this is a temporary effect, which reinforces why you have to exercise regularly.
It is also important to recognize that exercise directly protects against physiological stress as well, such as influencing the development and progression of cardiovascular disease. Exercise can also boost antioxidant levels, vascular health and other factors contributing to a “cardio-protection”.

Getting your heart pumping and body sweating is the best way to avoid sweaty palms and a racing heart when you're under pressure. Yep, exercise is one of life's greatest stress relievers. Not only can it help you stay calm when you feel anxiety coming on, it can also boost your energy and improve your mood.

Absolutely, exercise can reduce stress! Not only does the research support this, but I can personally attest to the power of exercise in reducing stress. I burned out from my law practice several years ago, and the burnout caused me to have very frequent panic attacks. Regular exercise helped me to manage the anxiety. I continue to exercise regularly so that my stress levels remain in check and to clear my mind so that I'm more productive during the day. Note: If you are experiencing high levels of anxiety/stress, make sure to check in with your doctor.

Exercise reduces stress and is great for your body and your mind.

Over and over medical and scientific research has shown that people who exercise are healthier and less likely to suffer the effects of stress versus people who do not exercise and have little to no physical activity in their daily lives.

So find some physical activity that you like. It can be as simple as walking or weight lifting. Swimming, jogging and playing racquetball or tennis are some other great ways to get exercise too.

The main thing is to do something you enjoy, so you will stay motivated to keep at it. Very soon you'll start to see the benefits. You'll look and feel better. You'll feel less stressed out.

So get to exercising and have some FUN!

And remember also that along with exercise, laughter is the best medicine.

It's free... it works... and it reduces the effects of stress.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.