It is well known that exercise helps reduce stress. Stress shows up differently in different individuals because of the importance of an event, characteristics of a person, past experiences, and the individuals perceived resources to problem solve. During a stress response, free radicals are produced. This is also the case during aerobic metabolism, suggesting that acute exercise can lead to oxidative stress. Generally, regular exercise can reduce oxidative stress but both anaerobic and aerobic exercise lead to reactive oxygen species (ROS) over production, leading to other detrimental effects of a common stress response. Our other blog entries discuss foods for combating oxidative stress.
When individuals have higher aerobic fitness from frequent exercise they have lower cortisol responses due to stressors. It is accepted that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise can alter cortisol levels and neural responses up to 90 minutes later, increasing mood and lowering cortisol levels. Exercise is more tonic and has the same effects regardless of the level of stress experienced.
Exercise is directly related to stress reduction however it can vary in response due to its ability to buffer stress and adversity problems. In general, women are more sensitive to the negative effects of stress. At high levels of stress, regardless of the amount of exercise it may not benefit women. At all stress levels, for men, exercise is effective at reducing stress response. At lower stress levels, exercise is more effective at reducing stress for all genders.
Exercise has been used to reduce PTSD and other depressive symptoms along with improving sleep quality. Exercise significantly improves both mental and physical health with a regular program, providing both anti-depressive and anxiolytic effects for individuals with serious mental illness (Rosenbaum, 2015).
‘Participation in ball sports and dancing moderated between perceived stress and depressive symptoms, while aerobic activities did not.’ (Gerber, 2014)
Different kinds of exercise help with stress and depressive symptoms more than others. For instance, weight lifting was effective at reducing depressive symptoms for individuals with low stress levels. Ball sports and dancing were more effective at reducing moderate levels of stress primarily due to the cooperative nature, concentration requirement, and social experiences associated with ball sports and dancing. Gerber found aerobic activities in general were not effective at reducing stress.
Treadmill exercise is suggested to reduce stress through increasing serotonin synthesis. It upregulates 5-HT, improving stress induced depression. Treadmill exercises may also reduce overactive bladder and improve sexual function. Treadmill exercise protects neurons from injury and helps reduce the progression of a variety of neurophyschiatric disorders such as Alheimer’s disease, Parkinsons, and autism.
Jillian Carnrick, founder and manager of The Dancing Herbalist, has a Masters of Science Degree in Herbal Medicine, practices as a nutritionist, and is a Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Is Medicine Professional through the American College of Sports Medicine. Join her for live classes and The Dancing Herbalist’s home herbalist courses online for more learning opportunities.