How to Use Exercise as a Stress Reliever

How to Make Exercise a Stress Reliever and not a Stress Creator

Stress. How do we deal with it? Some would say meditation, massage, therapy, eating chocolate, maybe even just working harder. But there is a better way to cope with our stress, and that is through exercise!


Exercise is a great way to reduce stress! Not only does it help decrease stress hormones, it also prompts the release of endorphins – your “feel good” brain chemicals. Beyond the chemical stress reduction, exercise helps us feel better physically. With improved physical function, daily tasks are not as draining. We feel more confident about our abilities and have more energy throughout the day. Exercise also offers a distraction from our everyday responsibilities to help us unwind1.


While exercise can help reduce stress, for some of you reading this, exercise is just one more stressor in your already stressful life. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way. With just a few tips, you can make exercise a stress reliever too!



First, you have to find a type of exercise you enjoy. If you don’t like exercising, adding it to your schedule will only be a burden. Sit down and make a list of all the activities you enjoy – no matter what type of activity – then circle all the items on your list that would get you moving and pick a few to try. Here’s a few ideas to get you thinking:


-       Walking

-       Dancing

-       Aerobics class

-       Jump roping

-       Playing Frisbee

-       Biking

-       Hiking

-       Swimming

-       Lifting weights

-       Playing basketball

-       Playing tennis

-       Playing any kind of sport

-       Doing exercise videos

-       Yoga

-       Pilates

-       Mowing the lawn

-       Gardening

-       Etc!



Now that you’ve found a type of exercise you think you might enjoy, you’re probably thinking, “How on earth can I fit one more thing into my day?” First off, set realistic goals and start small. Don’t expect to be perfect at exercising every day from the beginning. You might only be exercising once per week to start, but don’t let that discourage you. Just start with what you know you can accomplish so you don’t have a guilt trip every time you didn’t meet your lofty goal.


Another way to fit exercise into a busy schedule is to perform your daily exercise in just 10 minutes increments. Research has shown that exercising in multiple 10 minute bouts can be just as effective as single long bouts of exercise2.3. You can make it a goal to exercise for 10 minutes before work, during your lunch break, and in the evening. Find times throughout the day that work for you and just get moving for 10 minutes.



When you first start trying to implement these practices in your schedule, they might feel like a chore, but keep at it! The more you do it, the easier it will get until eventually it’s just a habit, like brushing your teeth!


Set a reminder on your calendar to get your 10 minutes in. Recruit friends, family, and coworkers so you have people to exercise with. Start making increased physical activity part of your lifestyle. Park at the back of the parking lot, take the stairs, and go on a lunchtime walk. Pretty soon this will be what you always do.


Exercise doesn’t have to be a stressor. Find the activities you enjoy doing and incorporate them into your lifestyle. Set small, realistic goals. Exercise in multiple small bouts during breaks throughout your day. Let exercise distract you from your daily worries and provide you with increase energy and confidence. Enjoy being active, and find a break from the stress!




2.     Schmidt, W. D., Biwer, C. J., & Kalscheuer, L. K. (2001). Effects of long versus short bout exercise on fitness and weight loss in overweight females. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 20(5), 494-501.

3.     Loprinzi, P. D., & Cardinal, B. J. (2013). Association between biologic outcomes and objectively measured physical activity accumulated in ≥ 10-minute bouts and < 10-minute bouts. American Journal of Health Promotion, 27(3), 143-151.