Stress is difficult to define. It may come from one or many sources. It may be brief, or last a long time. It may be one thing, or a combination of many things. Work, family life, money, and even weather can make you feel anxious, tired, or even depressed.
Stress can cause physical changes as well. You may notice a change in sleep patterns or your appetite. It can cause stomach distress and headaches. Over time, it can even contribute to serious health issues like high blood pressure and heart disease.
Physical activity is one of the best ways to relieve stress. It is a fast way to set you on the right track to better overall health.
Exercise is an opportunity to give your mind a break and help your body relax. Using physical activity to combat stress has been shown to:
The best thing about physical activity is that you can start at any age, in any condition, and see positive results.
It's always a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting any exercise program. Getting good advice from the start is the place to start. Once that is done, the best thing is to find something you like doing. Start slowly and build up. You want to create a lifelong habit, not dropout after the first few weeks because of injuries or misery.
Remember, the trick is to reduce stress, not create more, so take your time and have fun! Here are some tips to start the process:
Remember that exercise does not have to be structured. Any physical activity like dancing to music, a stroll at lunch, or playing with your kids can make you feel better. Moderate exercise for as little as 5 minutes can improve your mood.
Now you're moving. How can you keep the momentum going? Daily life gets in the way of exercise. Time is always hard to come by, so find opportunities where you can. Here are some tips for sneaking in some extra exercise time:
Physical activity is often thought of as something you'll get to when you have time. Instead, think of it as something you want to do and is an important part of your day. When you find activities you enjoy, you will soon find that physical activity is a regular treat in your hectic day.
American College of Sports Medicine
American Council on Exercise
Canadian Psychological Association
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology
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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 December 2014. Accessed August 1, 2016.
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Exercise important in shrinking your stress. American College of Sports Medicine website. http://www.acsm.org/about-acsm/media-room/acsm-in-the-news/2011/08/01/exercise-important-in-shrinking-your-stress. Accessed August 1, 2016.
Mind/Body Health: Stress. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx. Updated 2013. Accessed August 1, 2016.
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 November 2010. Accessed August 1, 2016.
Stress tip sheet. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2007/10/stress-tips.aspx. Published October 5, 2007. Accessed August 1, 2016.
Last reviewed August 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 10/23/2014