In today’s fast-paced world, stress might feel like an inevitable part of daily life. In fact, about 70% of adults in the U.S. say they experience stress or anxiety regularly, reports the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “There isn’t a human who isn’t impacted or affected by stress at some level,” says Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., president and chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise.
The consequences can be serious: “Stress elicits responses by the body that can have negative effects on our cardiovascular system and blood sugar levels,” says Bryant. Self-care is vital, he explains, because those effects can increase the risk of disease over time.
How Does Exercise Help Improve Your Mood?
Fortunately, there is an effective way to get a better handle on stress that doesn’t require switching careers, spending a ton of money or living off the grid: exercise. Studies show that regular exercise can help you to be physically healthy by lowering stress hormones, improving sleep and boosting confidence. Here’s how working out can contribute to mental wellness by decreasing stress—and why it’s easier than you think to get started.
Pump Up Your Endorphins
Have you ever heard of a runner’s high? Endorphins are behind those feelings of euphoria. Produced in the brain, spinal cord and other parts of the body, endorphins work by triggering a positive feeling in the body, functioning similarly to an analgesic—medicine used to ease pain. The upside is that any type of exercise can improve your mood by increasing the production of endorphins, which Bryant explains “can bring about a relaxation response and promote feelings of well-being.”
Improve Your Mood
Thanks to its “mood-elevating effect,” exercise can reduce the symptoms of mild depression and anxiety, says Bryant. In fact, according to a recent study published by JAMA Psychiatry, people are 26% less likely to become depressed with regular physical activity. One explanation is that exercise canstimulate the release of endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin—brain chemicals that regulate mood. There are environmental factors at play as well: Exercise can provide a healthy distraction from worries and negative thinking, as well as encourage social interaction and human connection.
Relieve Aches And Pains
The physical symptoms of stress range from headaches and upset stomach to chest pain and muscle tension, according to Bryant. Luckily, physical exercise can work to offset those symptoms—helping to relax and relieve our bodies. In fact, by interacting with the receptors in your brain that diminish the perception of pain, WebMD suggests that exercise-induced endorphins can act as powerful analgesics. The best part: Unlike many kinds of pain medication, endorphins don’t carry the same risks of addiction and don’t cost a thing.
A Quick Guide To Managing Stress
Embarking on an exercise program might be intimidating, but it doesn’t need to contribute to your stress. Here are some smart tips as you tackle the hardest part of the process: Getting started.
Keep things in perspective. “The beauty is that any dose of exercise can be beneficial,” says Bryant. He recommends 30 minutes of exercise each day, at least five times a week. Sessions may range from quick, five-minute bursts throughout the day to a consolidated 30 minutes of intense exercise. And how hard do you need to exert yourself to make it count? “You should be able to talk but not sing while exercising,” suggests Bryant.
Make exercise fun. Kickboxing, walks in the park, skateboarding, Pilates—there’s no shortage of ways to incorporate exercise into your daily self-care routines. The trick, however, is to find an exercise to help improve your mood, not something that feels like a chore. While one activity may burn more calories than another form of exercise, you likely won’t stick with it if it’s not fun or fulfilling. “Finding something that you deem to be enjoyable is likely to have the most beneficial effects and outcomes,” says Bryant. “Exercise doesn’t have to be painful and super intense to derive significant benefits.”
Seize opportunities. You don’t need an expensive gym membership or fancy gear to get started. Rather, Bryant suggests getting creative: “Look for opportunities to move.” For some, this may mean walking around the block during a lunch break. For others, the best way to reduce stress may involve forming a corporate baseball team or identifying a way to make exercise more social. The goal is to keep things simple and affordable so that physical activity becomes as commonplace—and as vital to your day—as eating and sleeping.
Stress might be a modern-day staple, but there are a variety of healthy methods for counteracting its effects, and even the slightest uptick in physical activity can help reduce its negative impact. So the next time you want to improve your mood, get moving.
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