Using Exercise to Manage Stress

Most of us lead busy lives. We’re looking after our families, working, taking care of others, worrying about everything going on in the world, and trying to keep on top of all of our other commitments. Finding ways to manage stress is vital if we want to be able to manage it all without becoming ill or burning out. 

Exercise is one of the best things you can do if you’re struggling with stress and anxiety. But what exactly is stress, why do we get stressed out, and how can exercise help? Let’s take a look. 

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What is Stress?

Stress is our body’s response to danger or threat. When we perceive a threat (it doesn’t even have to be real), our body steps up a gear to cope. This process is sometimes referred to as the “fight or flight” response

Traditionally, our bodies would start this process because of a genuine fear, a predator that we needed to fight or flee from. During the flight or fight response, we’re on high alert, we’re more focused, we get a surge of energy, and we can make decisions quickly. In a dangerous situation, stress can give us time to react, help us stay in control, and even save our lives. 

But, when we’re stressed out all of the time, and about less threatening things, it can make life difficult. While those responses are useful in some situations, we can’t live feeling like that all of the time. Stress can quickly stop being helpful and start to have a negative impact on your mood, your health, your relationships, and your ability to sleep. 

Why do We Get Stressed Out?

The situations that cause stress are known as stressors. Many stressors are negative, things like being too busy, having to do something that we’re worried about, relationship problems, and issues at work. But this isn’t always the case. Anything that puts high demands on you can be a stressor. This can include positive events such as moving to a new house, having a baby, and starting a new job. Stressors aren’t even all external factors or things that happen to us. Often stress is self-generated and caused by how we’re feeling about things, worry, and low self-esteem

Can Exercise Help with Stress?

Exercise is tremendously good for your physical and mental health. Even a short amount of exercise can boost your adrenaline levels, release endorphins that make you feel happier and reduce your stress levels. Exercising when you are stressed out can help you burn off the negative energy you may be storing and give your body a positive way to deal with that fight or flight response to your life stressors. Better than that, exercising regularly can help you stay in control of your stress levels, helping you permanently reduce and manage them. Here’s a look at some of the ways that exercise can help you to manage your stress. 

Improved Sleep Patterns

When we’re stressed out, we can find it hard to sleep. Our body’s response to stress means that we’re alert and focused, but our body is tired. So, we lie awake all night, worrying about our problems, and so increasing the stress and reducing our body’s ability to cope. 

Exercise can help you to sleep by tiring your body and mind. Even ten minutes of cardio exercise a day is thought to make it easier to get to sleep. 

A Healthy Routine

Routine is crucial if you are struggling with stress. It can help you to maintain order and to keep everything organized. Make exercise a part of your routine, and you’ll always have something positive to do, and perhaps less time, for other, less positive habits. 

Taking Control

When we’re stressed out, we can feel out of control. Exercise gives you a way to take back control, knowing that you are doing something positive for yourself. 

Increased Confidence

One of the best things about exercise is that it helps to boost your confidence. When we feel confident and powerful, our stressors don’t seem as daunting. 

Time to Think (or Not)

When we exercise, we’re away from all of those things that we’re worried about. It can be a chance to think things through without distractions. Or an opportunity to give your mind a break.

Burn Off Negative Energy

Stress is quite literally negative energy. Exercise is a way to turn this into something positive. Using that negativity to help you to gain strength and fitness. 

Which Exercises Can Help with Stress Relief?

The good news is, there’s no one exercise that helps with stress more than all of the others. Generally, a combination will be best, but anything you enjoy, find that you can stick to, and push your body will be great. Here’s a look at some of your stress beating exercise options. 

High-Intensity Workouts

High-intensity training like HIIT workouts or Seal team fitness can be excellent because they work you so hard that you don’t have the chance to worry. You’ll also see quick results, which can be a nice boost. 


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If you are looking for a chance to think, swimming is ideal. It’s an excellent full-body workout, but it’s easy and relaxing. The repetitive motion can be ideal if you’ve got a problem that needs your focus. 


Like swimming, running offers a repetitive motion, which can give you a chance to think. Alternatively, you can focus on the sounds of your feet pounding the pavement and try to forget about everything else. 

Weight Training

If you want to build strength, weight training is perfect. Weights offer short bursts of exercise, giving you room to focus. Weights are also great if you like to set small targets and feel good about hitting them. 

Team Sports

Team sports have all of the advantages and benefits of other cardio exercises, but with a significant added extra. Team sports are social. Becoming part of a team helps you to build a support network, make new friends, and have people to talk to. When you join a team, it can feel as though you are becoming part of a community. 

Combat Fitness

If you’ve got a lot of negative energy or negative elements in your life that are causing you stress, combat training, or martial arts could be an incredible release. 


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Yoga can help you to build strength and fitness gradually, while also improving your posture and increasing flexibility. Yoga is also excellent if you are struggling with stress and anxiety, and even a short daily practice can be helpful. 

How Much Exercise Should I Do?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. As part of a healthy routine, regular exercise can be beneficial when it comes to managing stress. But you should be flexible. Add extra exercise, or change your practice when you need to burn off steam. But don’t put too much pressure on yourself to exercise if you don’t want to. This will just add another stressor and make matters worse. Be flexible, and find a type and amount of exercise that suits your lifestyle and helps you to feel great. 

Of course, exercise is no miracle cure for extreme stress. It can help, and exercise certainly has many other positive benefits, but if you are worried bout your stress levels and feel very burnt out, you should try to make other changes, such as reducing your workload, taking a break, and speaking to your friends. If things don’t improve, or stress is becoming a big part of your life, you should talk to your doctor for further help and advice. 

This is a contributed post and therefore does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of this blog or its author.

Rob Gorski

Full time, work from home single Dad to my 3 amazing boys. Oh...and creator fo this blog. :-)
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