Exercise for Stress Reduction

Exercise for Stress Reduction

The link between exercise and stress is clear. So we’ve gotten Dr Alfredo to help explain the relationship between physical activity and stress according to scientific research. It’s not surprising…but it is interesting!

And, if you’re short on time we thought we’d throw the take home advice up front…before we got into the science:

even small incremental increases in physical activity can have significant benefits for mental health”

What is Stress and what does it do?

Stress is a natural response that improves our performance in threatening situations. The enhancement is huge both from the psychological and physiological point of view "Short-term stress enhances innate/primary, adaptive/secondary, vaccine-induced, and anti-tumor immune responses, and post-surgical recovery ... Short-term stress may also enhance mental/cognitive and physical performance through effects on brain, musculo-skeletal, and cardiovascular function, reappraisal of threat/anxiety, and training-induced stress-optimization. Therefore, short-term stress psychology/physiology could be harnessed to enhance immuno-protection, as well as mental and physical performance."[1]

As we can see, stress is a natural desirable response that in the short term can save our lives or by enhancing our resources.

However, if the stress response is prolonged in time it can have negative effects. It has been demonstrated that chronic stress increases the risk of cardiac incidents, hypertension, sleep disruptions and eight-related issues [2, 3]

As we can see, stress response can be helpful and harmful. The key factor is the duration of the response. As we will see now the duration of the stress response is closely related to the personal interpretation of daily events.

Now that we know what stress is we can explore the benefits of sports for reducing stress.

Physical Exercise and Stress

Physical exercise has been proved to have short and long-term benefits in both your mental and physical health. There are several social, psychological, neurological and biological mechanisms contributing to anxiety reduction from physical activity training. Regular exercise has positive effects on sleep quantity and quality [6].

According to recent studies people who are regularly physically active are less likely to suffer from clinical anxiety symptoms 28-48% [7]. That is a huge protection for only dedicating a few hours a week to our mental and physical health.

The good news is that everyone can benefit from the multiple positive effects of practicing exercise no matter the level or the intensity “even small incremental increases in physical activity can have significant benefits for mental health” [6]. This is also important because the duration and the intensity of the exercise should be adapted to the motivation and fitness level of each individual.

Scientists still have not found yet the perfect amount of exercise needed to maximize the stress reduction. We know that aerobic exercise for at least 21 minutes seems to be the minimum to achieve significant improvements [5].

Stress Buster Exercise: Try a 21 minute run or brisk walk during a time of high stress to see how it helps you!  

Exercise, Stress and Psychology

Cognitive appraisal. The psychological level of analysis has some peculiarities that need to be explained to get a better understanding of the benefits of physical activity for stress. From the psychological point of view, the reality is the psychological state of the person.