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How Exercise Reduces Stress

written by: Cheryl Gabbert • edited by: KJ Fitness,Ink • updated: 12/16/2009

Exercise improves mood, alleviates depression, and decreases anxiety. Exercise reduces stress too, and appears to work as well as an antidepressant drug. Here are the benefits of exercise in reducing stress.

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    Exercise Improves Mood

    Exercise improves mood and overall well-being. Endorphins are released during periods of exercise, and cortisol, the stress hormone is suppressed, which results in a better mental outlook. Exercise helps take our minds off problems. When we concentrate on our workout, we aren't worrying, fretting, or concentrating on daily stressors. Since regular exercise leads to better health and improvements in physical appearance, people who exercise tend to feel good about themselves. This contributes to a positive mood as well.

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    Exercise Reduces Stress

    Exercise reduces stress and anxiety. Aerobic exercise is the most beneficial for stress relief. You'll feel the results of a workout within 20 minutes. Resistance training doesn't appear to have the same stress and anxiety relieving benefits however, so go for a walk instead of lifting weights when you're anxious. You don't have to work extra hard though to relieve anxiety and stress. Intensity doesn't appear to matter, and low to moderate intensity workouts are effective.

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    Exercise Alleviates Depression

    Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise work to improve mood by alleviating depression. You'll need to exercise regularly for relief from depression, however, because one workout won't budge those gray feelings. A Duke University study showed that exercise is actually equal to regular doses of Zoloft for boosting the mood. It appears that exercise affects the brain chemistry in the same way as chemical antidepressants. Regular exercise also decreases the chances of a relapse in patients suffering from depression.

    Walking is one of the best exercises for boosting mood and alleviating depression. Mild to moderate intensity exercise is best for depression, so walking fits the bill. Nearly everyone can participate in a walking program, and no special equipment is necessary other than a good pair of walking shoes. Check with your doctor if you've been inactive before starting any fitness program. If you're new to walking, start slow, and add increments of time or distance each week. Walk at least 5 days a week for best results.

    While exercise is very beneficial as a coping mechanism for daily mental frustrations, doctors warn that it should not be the only way you alleviate tension and stress. When the focus is only on exercise, it can lead to exercise abuse, which occurs when people overexercise in an attempt to lose weight, or reduce stress. The key is moderation if you want to see the many benefits of exercise in reducing stress in your life.

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    1. University of California, Santa Cruz: Counseling and Psychological Services:

    2. Psych Education Org:

    3. Stress Management: