Physical Activity and Stress Management: Finding Balance for a Healthier & More Active Life


by Active Health, revised on August 16, 2023 


In today's fast-paced world, stress has become an inevitable part of our lives. Whether it's due to work pressures, personal challenges, or external factors, it is important to note that not all stress is bad. Everyone experiences a certain amount of stress on an almost daily basis, and our body has a natural response to combat stress. Stress only becomes a problem when too much is experienced, and it becomes damaging to our health. Fortunately, there is a potent ally in combating stress - physical activity.

Physical activity is any form of movement that engages our muscles and burns calories, whether structured or unstructured. Examples of physical activity include walking, taking the stairs, gardening, doing household chores, and even fidgeting! On the other hand, exercise constitutes a specific subset of physical activity that is structured, planned and purposeful such as scheduling an hour in the day to jog, brisk walk, weightlift, cycle or swim. Being physically active not only contributes to improved physical health but plays a vital role in stress management. In this article, we will explore the connection between physical activity and stress relief, highlighting the various ways in which exercise can help individuals find balance for a healthier, more active and harmonious life.

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The link between physical activity and stress reduction

Scientific evidence has long supported the positive effects of physical activity on stress reduction. When we are more physically active, our bodies release endorphins, often referred to as "feel-good" hormones. These neurotransmitters interact with receptors in the brain, promoting feelings of happiness and well-being while simultaneously reducing stress and anxiety levels. Regular physical activity can lead to an overall improvement in mood and provides a natural buffer against the negative effects of stress.

Physical activity as a stress release outlet 

Physical activity serves as a fantastic outlet for releasing pent-up stress and tension. As we engage in physical activities such as running, swimming, or even doing yoga, our bodies direct their energy towards the activity, helping us vent emotions and frustrations. This emotional release can lead to a calmer state of mind and a greater sense of emotional balance. According to the refreshed Singapore Physical Activity Guidelines (SPAG), adults (age 18 to 64 years old) should accumulate a total of 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic based activity in a week and engage in moderate-intensity of muscle strengthening activities that targets the major muscle groups on at least two days a week, to reap the benefits of physical activity for better health and wellness. 

Physical activity for enhanced sleep quality 

Stress often disrupts our sleep patterns, leading to restlessness and fatigue. Regular physical activity has been proven to improve the quality of sleep by promoting better relaxation and reducing anxiety levels. A well-rested mind and body are better equipped to cope with stress and handle challenging situations effectively. 

Physical activity to bring out mindfulness

Engaging in physical activity provides an excellent opportunity to practice mindfulness. Whether it is through focused breathing during yoga or being present in the moment while jogging outdoors, exercise allows individuals to detach from stressful thoughts and immerse themselves in the sensations of movement. This meditative aspect of physical activity can significantly reduce stress and cultivate mental clarity.  

Physical activity for social support and building connections 

Participating in group activities or team sports can foster social connections and a sense of community. The support and camaraderie gained from exercising with others can be a powerful antidote to stress. Interacting with like-minded individuals who share similar goals creates a supportive environment, providing emotional relief and reduces feelings of isolation. 

Physical activity and building resilience 

Consistent engagement in physical activity can strengthen both the body and mind. As individuals push their limits, they develop a sense of accomplishment and resilience, which translates into their ability to cope with stress. Regular exercise encourages a positive outlook on challenges, fostering a mindset that embraces stress as an opportunity for growth and learning. 

Incorporating physical activity into daily life 

Adopting an active lifestyle does not require drastic changes. Even small adjustments like taking short walks during breaks, cycling to work, or doing a quick home workout can make a significant difference in stress management. Finding activities that bring joy and satisfaction is key to maintaining consistency in physical activity. 

Summing it all together 

Physical activity is a powerful tool for managing stress and promoting overall well-being. Incorporating regular exercise into our lives can help us manage stress, improve mood, and build emotional resilience. Whether it is through the release of endorphins, the opportunity for emotional release, or the cultivation of mindfulness, being physically active offers a holistic approach to stress management. By making exercise a priority, we can find balance and harmony amidst life's challenges, leading to a healthier and happier existence. If the idea of starting an exercise routine overwhelms you, remember that every move counts and simply moving more throughout the day is better than not moving at all. So let us embrace the power of physical activity, and embark on a journey towards better quality of life! 

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Topics: Physical Activity