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Feeling Frazzled? Work Out for Stress Relief

girl running on treadmill at planet fitness club

Some stress is good (no, it really is!). When cortisol (that's your stress hormone) spikes, it can actually increase your productivity and concentration.

But when that cortisol sticks around, the bad stuff starts creeping in. Fatigue, anxiety, high blood pressure, insomnia, poor eating habits … yuck. But research has found one almost sure-fire cure: Exercise can reduce stress. Here’s how it works.

Pumps up endorphins

When you work out for stress relief, you lower cortisol and bump up the production of endorphins. These are the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. It’s tough to feel stressed out when you’re in a great mood.

Improves sleep

Stress and sleep don’t play well together. You’re thinking, thinking, thinking … and suddenly it’s 2 a.m. Ugh! But exercise can help in many ways. A workout increases body temperature and, as you cool down, you tend to relax. Exercise can also help reset your circadian rhythms, the body’s internal clock that tells you when it’s time to get your zzzs. Recent research suggests that when you don’t get enough movement, your circadian rhythm may slow down. When that happens, it can be harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Keeps energy levels steady

Oh, that mid-afternoon slump. You’re hangry. You’re beat. Then, your boss puts yet another project on your desk. Grrr. Most likely, a big part of your stress spike comes from low energy and low blood sugar. One way that exercise can reduce stress is by keeping energy levels and blood sugar steadier throughout the day — even hours after you work out.

Helps your memory

When you work out for stress relief, your higher heart rate gets more blood flowing throughout the body, especially the brain. That gives some zip to places like the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory. Ever notice that when you’re stressed, it’s easier to forget stuff? Work out more often and you’ll know where those keys are, finally.

Makes you a more efficient stress buster 

Exercise “teaches” your systems — cardiovascular, nervous, muscular — to communicate with each other more effectively. Researchers have noted that the better they all talk, the more efficient you get at responding to stress. Bottom line? Exercise you do now can make you better at handling stress even way into the future.

Body and mind connection

When considering how exercise can reduce stress, getting to the gym doesn’t seem like a workout only for your bod anymore. You’ll be boosting your happy brain chemicals and feeling the effects long after that cardio or weight set. Best of all, research has shown that any form of exercise will do it, as long as you get moving!