R. Todd Hurst, MD,FACC, FASE

Center Director for Cardiovascular Health

Banner University Medical Center-Phoenix

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  • Dr. Todd Hurst, MD

Exercise as a Way to Reduce Stress


Who isn’t feeling stressed these days?


Michelle was no different. She was a single mother of two active toddlers, and she was overwhelmed with life. She had a stressful job, financial demands, and was constantly feeling inundated with life’s challenges.


Michelle felt like she was out of options. When she discussed her concerns with her doctor, he recommended she begin an exercise 48 regimen to help alleviate some of her stress and begin enjoying life again.


The Benefits of Exercise


Exercise has some amazing benefits for your body both physically and mentally.

From a physical standpoint, regular exercise can help you lose weight as well as reduce the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. It can also help strengthen and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints which can prevent or improve chronic back and joint pain.


From a psychological standpoint, exercise can help reduce your stress level and help improve your mood. A recent scientific study has shown that exercise reduces the symptoms of anxiety in people who have chronic illness.


How Does Exercise Relieve Stress?


Daily physical activity can decrease the amount of adrenal hormones released in your body (stress hormones). An example of a stress hormone is cortisol. Small increases in cortisol for a short period of time can have positive effects such as increase in your immunity or your energy level. However, higher more prolonged cortisol release can have a negative impact leading to a decrease in bone density and muscle tissue, or even high blood pressure 19.


Exercise also increases your levels of endorphins which are chemically similar to morphine-like compounds. They have been shown to give a sense of euphoria and help with pain relief. The term “runners high” refers to the increased level of endorphins athletes get after a strenuous workout.


So, how do you begin to decrease your stress level through exercise? First, it is important you consult your physician about initiating an exercise program. This is especially true if you have any significant health problems.


Start with small, short term fitness goals that are attainable. If you have a sedentary lifestyle, begin by walking for 5-10 minutes/day. If you are more athletic, increase your workout routine a few minutes each week.


Make it fun! Choose an exercise or sport you enjoy or consider mixing up your routine and try something new. Whether it is tennis, yoga 41, pilates 33, or resistance training 35 – exercise can be a great remedy for stress!


And the Beat Goes On,

R. Todd Hurst, MD, FASE, FACC