Is Exercise Good for Stress Relief?

    There has been a tremendous amount of stress in the air due to the pandemic. As a result, many have taken to exercise as a means of blowing off some steam. Perhaps they’re onto something. Increasing your heart rate while exercising gets the endorphins flowing in your bloodstream, causing a rush of all those feel-good chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine. In other words, exercise can make you feel happier. What other reason do you need to hop on that treadmill?

    Exercise Causes Endorphin Release

    Whether it be pilates or long-distance running, exercise can give you a feel-good high that all workout junkies strive for. When you get your heart rate up and your blood pumping, your body releases natural hormones called endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that promote pain reduction and give you feelings of euphoria.  These hormones naturally counteract the pain induced by intense exercise. They do this by tapping into reward circuitry in the brain and act similarly to the drug class ‘opioids’. 

    Exercise Helps Battle Depression

    While exercise alone is not enough to battle depression, it can help significantly. The short-term rush of endorphins can make you feel good right away while you exercise. However, the real magic is in the cognitive changes that result from long-term sustained exercise. Exercising consistently over an extended period of time shows improvements in brain function that overall, make you feel better. In addition, exercising over time can result in strengthened connections in the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with mood regulation. The actual physical effects of exercise can cause emotional transformations as well. As you see positive changes in your body and achieve your goals, self-confidence will surely benefit.

    Exercise Can Be Social

    Exercise can be a totally independent activity, and maybe that is what you love about it; nonetheless, exercising at a local gym or studio, informally with friends or within group classes, can be a great opportunity to socialize. Nourishing your physical well-being with friends is a stellar way to rid yourself of stress. Moreover, exercising with others leads to tons of encouragement and support while sweating off the load on your shoulders. While covid has made group exercise classes difficult to execute, socially distanced group walks or outdoor HIIT classes are great ways to catch up with friends while relieving some stress. 

    Exercise Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

    There is no ‘best’ type of exercise. Some people love cardio, while others like to hit the weights. Above all, what is important in exercising is to enjoy the activity. Forcing yourself to run miles on the treadmill when you dread it each and every time is not productive. In fact, you could train yourself to view exercise in a negative light by taking this approach. My point is simple: pick your way to sweat, and make sure you’re having a good time. This way, you can bolster that endorphin rush with a positive mentality, and be sure to embrace the benefits that exercising for stress relief may bring.

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    • Laura is a passionate writer, and especially enjoys writing about the latest in science and mental health. She is on track to becoming a certified yoga instructor, currently leading meditation classes at a local nursing home. In addition to writing for New Theory Magazine, Laura works in an elementary school with autistic students as an ABA Aide. She hopes to one day pursue a PhD in clinical psychology so she may work towards bridging the gap between yoga therapy and psychological treatment.

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