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Get a Handle on Stress with Physical Fitness

Image for exercise and motivation article 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.

How Physical Fitness Helps You

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:

  • Boost your mood
  • Boost your self-confidence
  • Relieve anxiety and feelings of depression
  • Improve alertness
  • Give you a better night's sleep—which will also make you feel even better

The best thing about physical activity is that you can start at any age, in any condition, and see positive results.

How to Get Started

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:

  • Do something fun (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, move on, and get back out there. It will eventually become a habit.

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.

Sticking With It

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:

  • 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. If you can avoid the elevator, do so. The extra steps always help and you will get better at them.
  • Park farther away. When you have to park your car, do it farther from your destination and try to walk the distance.
  • Involve your family or friends. Start a challenge and see what happens. If you exercise together, conversation is easier.
  • 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.

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: Updated December 2014. Accessed August 1, 2016.

Exercise: how to get started. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website website. Available at: Updated April 2015. Accessed August 1, 2016.

Exercise important in shrinking your stress. American College of Sports Medicine website. Accessed August 1, 2016.

Mind/Body Health: Stress. American Psychological Association website. Available at: 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: Updated November 2010. Accessed August 1, 2016.

Stress tip sheet. American Psychological Association website. Available at: Published October 5, 2007. Accessed August 1, 2016.

Last reviewed August 2016 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 10/23/2014