• Decrease font size
  • Default font size
  • Increase font size

Regular Physical Exercise

 By Dr. Neil Nedley

            Regular physical exercise is another vi­tal component of a healthy lifestyle that will be a deterrent to stress. Long known to help stave off heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer, regular exercise can also help protect against the physical effects of daily stress. Medical literature demonstrates that regular physical exercise is an important aid to mental health and stress control. Regu­lar moderate exercise also appears to help the immune system, thus conceivably help­ing to offset stress-related immune suppres­sion.

            Interestingly, mind-engaging exercise may have additional benefits. For example, getting involved with some vigorous yard work, gardening, or chopping wood, may prove even more beneficial than a walk. After all, you may unwittingly ponder your stress level while walking. Doing a practi­cal physical task often requires more men­tal attention than walking or bicycling, making it less likely that you will engage in thoughts of your stress during your stress-relieving exercise. In a study of 135 college students, those who exercised on a regular basis were more likely to take life's daily stresses in stride compared with their less physically-active counterparts.

           Study participants filled out a question­naire assessing the daily hassles they encoun­tered during the past week—such as car trouble, running late for appointments, or arguments with coworkers. A second ques­tionnaire listing their major life events, mood, physical activity, and overall health was also submitted. Highly stressed students who engaged in less exercise reported 21 percent more anxiety than students who ex­ercised more frequently. Exercise helped them gel their mind away from their stressors—providing a time-out period.

           Exercise can also be a short-term strat­egy for enhancing your body's stress-cop­ing capacities. When my patients encoun­ter excessive stress, I instruct them to en­gage in some type of aerobic exercise at the very time that they feel the pressure. A 30-minute brisk walk in the fresh air, a run, or a bicycle ride can give you "a new lease on life." Regular physical exercise is also ben­eficial in anxiety states. People who physi­cally exercise on a regular basis experience less depression and anxiety. People who ate already depressed or anxious will im­prove with regular physical exercise—the improvement is similar to the improvement experienced with medications—but with­out the side effects.

           Regarding physical symptoms, those who reported exercising less frequently during periods of high stress had 37 percent more physical symptoms of stress than their coun­terparts who exercised more often. Many other studies have shown the converse; that is, mental stress takes a toll on physical health. Examples of health problems related to stress are documented in the previous chapter.

           A study with laboratory rats looked at how physical activity affects the brain. Rats ran for exercise for eight weeks before 90 minutes of stress exposure and then were compared with rats that had not exercised before being exposed to stress. The results are shown in Figure 4.

Exercise Reduces Stress in Labratory
            The implication from Figure 4 is that if you were a diligent exerciser and exposed to stress, your brain would be much better equipped to handle the situation than would the brain of a sedentary person. If you were a diligent exerciser and you cut your finger, you would heal faster than a non-exerciser. If you broke your leg, the bone would heal faster. If you contracted a virus, your im­mune system would work more efficiently to return you to health. Notice that none of these strategies for combating stress in­volves the use of drug medications.

DepressionFrom the book
Depression, the Way Out,
Nedley  Publishing, Ardmore, OK, 2001


Neil Nedley, M.D.,
Nedley Health Solutions
P. O. Box 1565
Ardmore, OK 73402

Toll-free: 1-888-778-4445
Phone: 1-580-226-8007
Fax: 1-580-223-2645