Stress has long been known to be a silent killer, but new research shows that exercise may help combat the harmful impact it has on someone’s health, specifically when it comes to stress brought on from work.
A report published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that working professionals who exercised were less likely to experience the negative health effects of psychosocial stress, which is one of the most common factors leading to illness-related absences from work. Psychosocial stress increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and has been linked to depressive symptoms.
Researchers asked 200 Swedish workers to rate their stress levels using the Nordic Questionnaire for Psychological and Social Factor at Work. The study examined the participants’ heart health by looking at blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol. Their fitness levels were also calculated.
They discovered that people who felt stressed were more likely to get heart disease, but people who were psychically fit yet still stressed were less likely to have these risk factors. According to the study’s results, exercise may be able to help protect people against some of the dangerous health risks associated with too much stress.
But when people are overly stressed and experiencing some depressive symptoms, they are less likely to workout.
“The paradox is that after a stressful day, people are more prone to engage in sedentary activities — most likely because these activities need less self-regulatory resources than exercise,” said study author Markus Gerber of University of Basel in Switzerland. “Thus, although exercise might be a good medicine against stress, it will only have an impact if ‘the pill’ is taken.”
Dr. Gerber says that more research should be done to determine exactly what kind of exercise is best for stress relief. However, Dr. Gerber also says there is evidence that the four-hour window of time after a workout provides the most protection against stress.
A 2011 study published in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that exercising in the mornings can improve sleep and reduce stress levels. Researches discovered that participants who exercised in the morning actually spent up to 75 percent more time in the deep sleep stage at night, compared to volunteers that worked out in the evening. As a result, the people who exercised in the morning were more well-rested and less stressed.
In addition to combating stress, regular exercise has been proven as an effective tool for weight loss or weight control; a great way to improve someone’s mood; boost energy levels; and even may put the spark back into someone’s sex life.
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.