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Exercise's Role in Stress Management

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Woman relaxing after a workout

Exercise has proven to be an effective remedy for even the most stressful of days. By releasing powerful hormones in the brain and allowing yourself to disconnect from the busyness and demands of life, physical activity is a great way to relieve and manage stress. 

Cooper Fitness Center Professional Trainer Shannon Edwards, MS, explains how incorporating physical activity into your daily routine lowers blood pressure, releases mood-boosting endorphins and improves quality of sleep.

“Physical activity is a practical way to remove yourself from the source of your stress and clear your mind,” Edwards states. “Managing stress with exercise helps us calm our emotions and face our stress-causing responsibilities with renewed energy and hope that we can accomplish what we need to.”

Although it sounds counterintuitive, the higher the intensity a physical activity is performed at, the more energy you will have due to the increased levels of the hormone norepinephrine. Both a stress hormone and a neurotransmitter (sending signals between nerve cells), norepinephrine is released into the bloodstream in response to a stressful event. It increases alertness and arousal, speeds reaction time and is shown to play a role in a person's mood and ability to concentrate.

Stress-relieving activities look different for everyone based on personal interests and what helps you unwind the most effectively. Slower paced activities can allow you to relax and shift your focus away from stressors. Examples include: 

  • Deep breathing
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Going for a walk

Higher tempo exercise floods the brain and body with “feel good hormones.” Examples include:

  • Lifting weights
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Other cardio-based activities

When dealing with stress for any duration of time, it can be difficult to gauge when exercising would be helpful and when it would be hurtful. “Learn to read your life patterns to know whether to use exercise as a tool to relieve stress and when it is time to prioritize rest,” says Edwards. “If I have worked out intensely several days in a row, slept less than seven hours each night and feel really heavy and demotivated, I know my body is craving recovery and sleep more than exercise.”

Planning your workout routine in advance helps you stay on track and continue to work toward your goals even when unexpected stress throws a speed bump your way. When you regularly schedule exercise into your day, it becomes a helpful stress-relieving tool your body craves and enjoys.

A comprehensive approach to living well is the key to stress management. Making healthy food choices, getting adequate sleep and exercising regularly all work together to help you maintain a balanced healthy lifestyle in stressful times.  
For more information about Cooper Fitness Center or to schedule a session with a Professional Fitness Trainer, visit or call 972.233.4832.