By Janis Jibrin, M.S., R.D., Best Life lead nutritionist
If you’re like the majority of Americans—67 percent of them, to be exact—then you’re stressed out. And your stress may trigger physical symptoms, like fatigue or upset stomach, as it does in 72 percent of Americans, according to an American Psychological Association survey. These symptoms are bad enough, but stress can be even more destructive, causing chronic inflammation, depression, heart disease, and other conditions.
There are many ways to combat stress, including meditation, social support, building your confidence, and coping skills, but exercise is near the top of the list. Exercise primarily refers to aerobic exercise (cardio), but a few studies also indicate that strength training is a good stress-buster as well.
Getting sweaty is exceptionally effective because it attacks stress from so many angles. When you regularly work out, you’re:
- Likely to have lower levels of substances that spike stress and depression, such as cortisol and other stress hormones, inflammatory compounds and free radicals.
- Apt to have a tamer cardiovascular response to stress; your heart rate and blood pressure don’t rise as high, and come back down more quickly.
- More resilient; in other words, stressors (things that cause stress) are more likely to roll off your back
- Less like to become depressed or anxious. People who are more physically active are less likely to develop anxiety disorders or depression—both a major source and a consequence of stress. According to a University of Toronto review, any level of physical activity helps, even if it’s below the recommended 150 minutes per week.
- More likely to come out of your depression. A number of studies show that exercise works as well as therapy (and, in some studies, as well as anti-depressants), improving symptoms by 67 to 74 percent, according to a Boston University School of Medicine review. And if you are depressed, exercise can help alleviate it.
- Apt to get better quality sleep, which not only helps reduce stress but can help you drop pounds. For sleep tips, click here.
So if you’re feeling irritable, angry, anxious, depressed, overwhelmed or any of the other symptoms of stress, you have a few more good reasons to get out and move! While research isn’t clear on how much exercise it takes, studies indicate any amount is better than none. And the longer you stick with it, the lower your stress levels will be over time.