Do you find yourself saying, “I’m too busy and stressed to fit exercise into my daily routine”? You’re not alone. Seven out of ten adults say they experience stress every day—it’s an inevitable part of life and impossible to eliminate, but you can learn to manage it. Physical activity is one of the best antidotes for stress, so get moving. What are you waiting for?!

Engaging in physical activity can help you feel more relaxed, become healthier, and enjoy life more. It can help take your mind off your worries and problems by redirecting your focus to what you’re doing in the moment or helping you move into a more relaxed, meditative state.

Did you know that moving your body can actually produce a tranquilizing effect that can last for up to four hours? It can also promote fantasies and daydreams, as well as support imagination and creative thinking, all of which are wonderful psychological benefits and play a vital role in reducing stress. Some people even daydream while they exercise.

Among the most powerful psychological effects of physical activity is “parasympathetic rebound.” When the body anticipates movement, the central nervous system gets excited, and the sympathetic nervous system releases neurotransmitters (epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine) that stay elevated throughout the activity. When the activity ceases, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over, inhibits the secretion of these neurotransmitters, and produces a calming response, thereby reducing stress levels.

Physical activity produces endorphins (natural painkillers) and serotonin (a neurotransmitter that elevates mood). Endorphins and serotonin also improve the quality of your sleep, making you feel rested and refreshed.

Additional benefits of physical activity include improved self-reliance, decreased feelings of depression and anxiety, better weight maintenance, improved self-esteem, enhanced immune function, better health, and a reduction in the overall sense of stress and tension.

Ways to Change Your Physical Activity Behavior

  • Consider adding these activities to your life: dancing, walking, swimming, tennis, weight or resistance training, hiking, low-impact aerobics, bike riding, gardening, golfing or yoga
  • For about six weeks, commit to adding a single new physical activity to your current repertoire and see how it impacts your life.
  • Consider getting an “exercise buddy.” Exercising with another person makes the activity more fun, improves mood, and builds/enhances friendships, and you can celebrate your successes together!
  • Monitor your progress weekly and notice how increasing activity levels and changing your activities impacts your life. Rate your energy level, mood, quality of sleep, level of stress, and/or mobility. Maintain a physical activity journal to track your progress.
  • After six weeks, review your journal and notice how making one behavior change has affected your life.
  • Continue this activity if it was beneficial. Modify the activity if it wasn’t as beneficial as you would have liked.
  • When ready, try another new healthy behavior and marvel at its impact. Keep repeating the process until you’re satisfied with the result.