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Health & Wellbeing

How Working Out Can Tackle Stress

Today’s fast paced lifestyles and an “always on” culture mean that work, financial and other pressures are only a notification away - long after we’ve clocked off for the day. This correlates with an increase in stress-related conditions such as depression and anxiety, and an overall negative impact on our mental health. As well as delivering a host of physical benefits, regular exercise can also play an important role in managing and relieving every day stress, conditioning the mind as well as the body and delivering a powerful antidote to modern-day pressures.


Here are 7 reasons why working out can help tackle stress;


As the saying goes “I regret that workout… said no one ever.” We’ve all heard of runner’s high: a rush of feel-good endorphins and other neurotransmitters that deliver a noticeable sense of euphoria and wellbeing after exercise. This effect helps boost mood and promotes a positive state of mind, helping to dissipate stress - and it follows that a number of studies indicating that regular exercisers have a significantly lower incidence of depression and anxiety. And, what’s more, it isn’t only runners who benefit from this mood boosting effect – any continuous aerobic exercise can trigger this natural high, which is why, nine times out of ten, you’ll finish your workout feeling extra-energised and positive.


When you’re in the zone, you’re also zoning out from external pressures. Exercise helps us to switch off by focusing our mind on the task at hand and into the immediate “now”. That means instead of worrying about your next deadline, you’re focused on your performance, how your body feels and responding to it in the moment – reconnecting the mind with the body in an almost meditative state. Researching the effects of exercise on mindfulness, one study at the University of Freiburg concluded that “dispositional mindfulness can be increased through regular aerobic exercise” and in fact was significantly more effective than relaxation techniques. This mindfulness helps to calm the mind, allows us to refocus our thoughts and in turn elevates every day cognitive function, concentration and mental focus.


External stress triggers our biological survival mechanism as the body prepares for an emergency response to a perceived threat. The body releases adrenaline and other stress hormones, heart rate and blood pressure rise, perspiration increases, the liver produces extra sugar for energy and the muscles tense, ready for action - while shutting down non-essential functions including the digestive and immune systems.

While most of today’s stresses don’t involve life threatening situations and we’re highly unlikely to need to fight or run away from a sabretooth tiger like the cavemen did, we’re still biologically programmed to respond to stress physically. Those sweaty palms before an important work presentation? That’s your physical fight or flight response manifesting itself.

Added to that, this emergency response is designed to dissipate as soon as the threat is over, however with modern day stress – be it work, financial or relationships - is often continuous. When stress is long term, its repeated effects can take their toll on the body and begin to manifest themselves in stress-related illness such as heart disease, hypertension, suppressed immunity and problems with the digestive system such as IBS and stomach ulcers.

Exercise is an effective way of helping to blunt the physical symptoms of our fight or flight response, releasing tension in the muscles, using up excess adrenaline production and boosting our natural immunity - and in doing so helps minimise the biological effects of stress.



Exercise helps us to burn off negative emotions such as anger and frustration, which can also boost our performance as we direct that anger and pent up energy into a powerful workout. Releasing and directing those emotions into a positive training session helps to reduce mental and emotional symptoms of stress, helping promote a calmer, clearer and more focused state of mind.


Regular exercise improves both the quality and duration of our sleep, with one recent study from the University of Oregon finding that 150 minutes of vigorous exercise a week provided a huge 65% improvement in the quality of sleep. A good night’s sleep helps our bodies to recharge and rest, resulting in better concentration and cognitive function, and helping us to deal more effectively with everyday sources of stress.

The relationship between stress and sleep can be a vicious circle. Sleep deprivation results in an increase in negative emotions such as irritability and anger, leading to stress, which in turn can lead to depression and anxiety - which again will interfere with the quality of our sleep. Exercise not only makes us feel physically tired, helping to make us feel sleepy, but also helps to reduce depression and anxiety - providing an outlet for negative emotions, helping to break this cycle.


Regular exercise puts us at the top of our game in terms of feeling fit, healthy and energised – and when we’re at our healthiest, we’re also looking our best which can be a huge boost to our self-esteem and confidence.

Regular exercise also gives us a focus away from external life pressures, a new sense of purpose and achievement as we reach our fitness goals, surpass them and set new targets. This gives us more positivity and confidence to deal with every day stress triggers. Regular exercise gives us a sense of taking back control, because while you may not be able to control the behaviour of other people or stressful situations, when it comes to your personal fitness goals, you make all the rules.


Engaging in regular exercise means that we’re likely to come into contact with like-minded people and create new social bonds through shared goals, encouragement and a support. A number of studies demonstrate that these positive, affirming and rewarding interactions. Even if they are fleeting interactions – they boost our mood, raise our spirits and give us a sense of belonging. In turn reducing our likelihood of developing anxiety, depression or other stress related conditions. So, for an extra positive mental boost, find a training a buddy, join a running group, or even simply smile and say hello to familiar faces at the gym – mentally you’ll reap the rewards and feel happier for it.

Want to learn more? Visit our Health and Wellbeing category to help look after your body, mind and personal safety with our expert advice and guidance.


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