Manage Your Stress Chapter 24

Beat Stress with Exercise

Image Caption : Vigorous exercise can lower blood cortisol levels and trigger the release of feel-good neurotransmitters

Endorphins, the body's home-grown pain relievers, are known to block pain signals to the brain, which brings about their feel-good effect. Just as endorphins are the body's version of morphine, endocannabinoids are its homemade version of the active ingredient in cannabis, or marijuana. Both are released into the bloodstream in great volume after intense aerobic exercise. Both bring about feelings of euphoria, calm and well-being. Exercise improves mood and controls anxiety in other ways. It unleashes the calming neurotransmitters serotonin, which regulates anxiety, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which inhibits neural activity in the brain. A study of subjects over 50 who had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder established three research groups. One group started an aerobic exercise training program. A second took the antidepressant medication Zoloft. The third group combined the two interventions-some exercise and Zoloft. After 16 weeks, all three groups showed improvement in their depression symptoms. The group taking the drug had more immediate improvement, but by the end of the research period it was clear that the exercise-only group had improved just as much as the other two. Exercise may be the best anti-stress prescription of all!


Also called: Psychological stress

Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Not all stress is bad. All animals have a stress response, and it can be life-saving. But chronic stress can cause both physical and mental harm.

There are at least three different types of stress:

  • Routine stress related to the pressures of work, family, and other daily responsibilities
  • Stress brought about by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness
  • Traumatic stress, which happens when you are in danger of being seriously hurt or killed. Examples include a major accident, war, assault, or a natural disaster. This type of stress can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Different people may feel stress in different ways. Some people experience digestive symptoms. Others may have headaches, sleeplessness, depressed mood, anger, and irritability. People under chronic stress get more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold. Vaccines, such as the flu shot, are less effective for them.

Some people cope with stress more effectively than others. It's important to know your limits when it comes to stress, so you can avoid more serious health effects.

NIH: National Institute of Mental Health

The material on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult a licensed medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions and before starting a new diet or exercise program. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.