Newsletter Article

The Connection Between Stress & Exercise

The number of overweight and obese individuals continues to rise and with that comes increased risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. [1] Research has consistently shown that regular activity is beneficial not only for our physical health, but for our mental health as well. In fact, physical activity has been found to have antidepressant effects on the body. [2]

A study by Klaperski et al. examined the body’s psychological response to physical exercise and, more specifically, at what level of activity this response takes place. [2] Female study participants, categorized as inactive, moderately active, or vigorously active, underwent an experimental psychological stress test. The women who were considered inactive showed the highest stress reactivity levels, particularly in heart rate response and elevated salivary free cortisol levels. These findings suggest that the women who exercised regularly were able to alleviate cardiovascular reactions in psychosocial situations. Those who vigorously exercised were also able to reduce their heart rate faster than the other two groups.

A literature review found higher levels of stress in women was associated with a higher BMI. Several studies have also shown that chronic stress is associated with greater abdominal obesity. Associations were found between stress and both lower physical activity and more frequent fast food consumption. There was also an association between stress and increased television viewing time. [3]

These studies suggest that levels of stress may contribute to increased weight gain and unwanted weight-related behaviors, such as decreased physical activity and increased television time. Regular exercise can help alleviate stress. Incorporating stress management techniques, such as having scheduled times for exercise, might help slow rising obesity rates.