EBSCO Health

Print PageSend to a Friend
Health Library Home>Condition Information Collections>Article

Get a Handle on Stress with Physical Fitness

Image for exercise and motivation article Work, family life, money, and even weather can make you feel anxious, tired, or even depressed. Stress can cause changes in sleep patterns or your appetite. It can cause stomach distress and headaches. Over time, it can even lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. Stress cannot always be prevented but we can take steps to decrease its effects.

Physical activity is one of the best ways to relieve stress. It can not only ease stress but also improve your overall health.

How Physical Fitness Helps You

Exercise gives your mind a break and helps your body relax. It has been shown to:

  • Boost your mood
  • Boost your self-confidence
  • Ease anxiety and feelings of depression
  • Improve alertness
  • Ease tension in muscles
  • Give you a better night's sleep

A fitness routine can be started at any age and the benefits start fast. Even just 1 sessions can help to ease tension.

How to Get Started

It's always a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Find something that you can enjoy. Start slowly and build up exercise time. Remember, the trick is to reduce stress, not create more. Take your time and have fun! Here are some tips to start the process:

  • Do something fun. It may be alone or with a buddy.
  • Listen to music that gets you pumped up and makes you feel good.
  • Don't give up if you miss a few days. Accept it and get back out there.
  • Put time to exercise in your schedule. This will help you stay on track.
  • Get outdoors when you can.

Not all exercise has to be structured. If you're feeling tense look for space to dance to music, take a stroll at lunch, or play with your kids. Moderate exercise for as little as 5 minutes can improve your mood.

Sticking With It

Now you're moving. How can you keep the habit going? Daily life gets in the way of exercise. Time is always hard to come by, so find time where you can. Here are some tips for sneaking in some extra exercise time:

  • Keep walking or running shoes in the car or office. You may find time in the middle of the day to take a quick walk or run.
  • Use the stairs. Avoid the elevator when you can.
  • Park farther away.
  • Start a challenge with friends and family.
  • Walk away from stressful situations. At work or at home, stand up on a regular basis and walk around. It clears your mind and may help you solve that pesky problem.

Be aware of your signs for stress. When they begin to appear, find some quick ways to move and the first steps to better wellness.


American College of Sports Medicine

American Council on Exercise


Canadian Psychological Association

Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology


The exercise effect. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise.aspx. Accessed June 6, 2020.

The exercise habit. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/prevention-wellness/exercise-fitness/exercise-basics/the-exercise-habit.html. Updated May 18, 2018. Accessed June 6, 2020.

Exercise and Fitness. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/healthy/physical/basics/015.html. Accessed June 6, 2020.

Mind/Body Health: Stress. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx. Accessed June 6, 2020.

Stress: how to cope with life's challenges. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/prevention-wellness/emotional-wellbeing/mental-health/stress-how-to-cope-better-with-lifes-challenges.html. Updated December 21, 2016. Accessed June 6, 2020.

Stress tip sheet. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2007/10/stress-tips.aspx. Accessed June 6, 2020.

Last reviewed June 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board  Last Updated: 6/8/2020