Physical Exercise as a Relaxation Technique for Managing Stress

Physical Exercise as a Relaxation Technique for Managing Stress

The benefits of physical exercises in managing stress are well documented and well established. In this research paper the focus is on physical exercise as a technique for stress management. Ananalysis of the various types of stress and its impact on health are discussed. The effect of physical exercise on managing stress is explained in detail in the subsequent sections. The paper concludes with the effectiveness of physical exercises by providing scientific findings, and comparing it with other popular techniques for managing stress.


The term stress is broadly used to describe a feeling of being wound uptight, worried or overloaded. Normally, it tends to be a response to unexpected disruption or change in one’s life and it can be brought on by either imagined or real factors. When the bodyis stressed, it releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin,which help to react quickly to changes. The hormones released increase the blood pressure, muscle tension, breathing, metabolism and heart rate, thereby resulting in either positive or negative stress (Stults-Kolehmainen & Sinha, 2014).

Positive stress tends to be short-term and it is perceived to be within the coping capacities of the person. It motivates the individual to get things done by improving performance. Eustress is an example of positive stress. This type of stress is good and it arises out of motivating circumstances. Stress that is not good or bad is neustress for example(Seaward, 2015). Its effects on health are inconsequential. The bad news of an earthquake that takes place in a remote area is a good example of neustress (Seaward, 2015). Such stress does not have significant effects on the health of the person perceiving thenews.

Negative stress,however, causes anxiety and results in an unpleasant feeling.It can have either short-term or long-term effects. It decreases the performance, and can lead to both physical and mental problems. A good example of negative stress is distress. This type of stress is considered bad for the health and is classified into either acute stress or chronic stress. Chronic stress, described as not as intense as the acute stress, last for a protracted period. Acute stress, in contrast, refers to the type of stress which is very intense, but disappears quickly (Seaward, 2015). Most of the time, the human body is unable to distinguish between the positive and the negative stress. As a result, stress can gradually be harmful to the health of the person.

When stressed, people tend to react in specific ways which are conditioned on the basis of the learned habits acquired early in life to cope with the disruptive events and conflicts. In pre-historic times, people used different methods to cope up with stress, referred to as the fight or flight response. In modern times, the strategies remain almost the same, but the response to current threats and dangers are often quite different from that of the pre-historic times (Berryman, 2010).

Physical Exercise

Physical exercise refers to the activities that present systematic repetition of oriented movements that increase oxygen intake into the body. The physical exercises result ina series of physiological responses that affect the cardiovascular system positively (Monteiro& Filho, 2004). In stress management, physical exercise is a relaxation technique. It helps the body to relax and in turn,overcome the stress (Seaward, 2015).

The two general categories of physical activities are anaerobic and aerobic. Anaerobic activities are intense in both strength and power, but are of short duration. They fit the fight response in flight-or-fight response. Aerobic activities, on the other hand, refer to physical activities such as dancing, running, cycling, swimming and walking. These activities are continuous in nature and they involve equal supply and demand of oxygen. In contrast to the anaerobic activities, aerobic activities involve moderate intensity for a prolonged duration. The exercises serve as the flight part of the flight-or-fight response. Most of the time, the aerobic activities are stimulated by anxiety and fear. Unlike anaerobic exercises that challenge the body to release muscular strength, aerobic exercises challenge the body to increase the endurance (Seaward, 2015). Studies show that aerobic exercises that enhance the cardiovascular endurance help to reduce the vulnerability of developing heart diseases by modifying the risk factors. For these reasons, the aerobic exercises are considered favorable for managing the stress(Seaward, 2015).

In stress management, physical exercise should be designed to perform in an ordered manner. The exercise activity should be started cautiously. The individual should pick a preferred physical activity forreducing stress rather than promoting it. The right time for doing the exercise should also be selected. This involves making a commitment, and setting time for engaging in physical exercises. The correct clothing and use of appropriate equipment are required. It is always better to initiate a support group. The person should be focused and should set own fitness goals. Finally, people should be careful enough to protect themselves from injuries (Seaward, 2015).

Physical exercises are designed to strengthen the physiological system of the body so that when stress occurs, the already hardened body gets ready for them. The physical exercises perpetuate the stress response when the body is in motion and when it is stopped,the body returns to homeostasis. The nature of this homeostasis is more complex in the body of a person engaged in regularphysical activities. Accordingly, a physically active person is able to respond to stress more efficiently than a physically inactive person (Anderson & Shivakumar, 2013). The inactivity causes strain on the internal systems of the body because long periods of sedentary positions result in various organs getting into metabolic overdrive.

Physical exercises are important for maintaining the proper function of the major physiological systems. As the body requires both rest and physical stimulation, there should be a judicious balance between the physical activities and homeostasis. All the physical activities act as postponed responses for stress as they act as catharsis for frustrations. According to Seaward (2015), physical activities help the body to flush out stress hormones.

Effectiveness of Physical Exercise in Stress Management

The current studies indicate that physical exercises improve health and longevity. Regular exercise improves brain cell tissue, which is crucial for multitasking, attention span and memory. Physical exercises have been shown to improvebrain cell activity (Berryman, 2010). Aerobic exercises in particular have been shown to create new brain cells, delay the aging process and increase academic scores as well as improve the ability to deal with physical and emotional stress.

Scientific Findings

Scientifically, physical exercises have been shown to improve self-esteem, self-efficacy and sense of self-reliance, mental alertness, perception and processing information; increase the perception of acceptance by other people; decrease the feeling of anxiety and depression, and decrease the overall sense of stress and tension. In terms of short-term physiological effects,physical exercises have been shown to decrease the resting rate of the heart, blood pressure, cholesterol in blood, muscle tension, improve sleep, and increase the resistance to cold and viruses. In the long-term, physical exercises have been shown to decrease the body fat, slow the aging rate, increase the body composition, and increase the tolerance to hot and cold weathers (Seaward, 2015).

Comparing Physical Exercises with Other Techniques

When compared to the other techniques of managing stress, physical exercises were found effective in getting rid of the stress hormones. The physical activities help the body to utilize food substrates for their intended purposes. The body absorbs the minerals such as calcium whenever they are needed. In the state of physical inactivity, which results in the imbalance of the body, the other organs, which are not supposed to absorb minerals and other food substrates, absorb them. This results in a state of dysfunction within the body (Berryman, 2010). In terms of the relaxation response, the physical exercises help the body to release epinephrine and norepinephrine instantly. When the movements stop, the parasympathetic nervous system initiates a calming response.

From a general viewpoint, the physical exercises are most effective in managing stressin three different ways. First, they prepare the body for future stressful episodes by reducing the levels of hormonal secretions. Second, they burn off stress hormones and the existing catecholamine by directing them towards their intended metabolic functions instead of allowing them to undermine the immune system and vital body organs (Seaward, 2015). Third, they help the body organs such as the kidneys, lungs, heart and blood vessels to respond effectively to stressful episodes.


Anderson, E., & Shivakumar, G. (2013). Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 4(27).

Berryman, J. (2010). Exercise is medicine: A historical perspective. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 9(4), 1-7.

Monteiro, M., & Filho, D. (2004). Physical exercise and blood pressure control. The Revista Brasileira deMedicinado Esporte, 10(6), 517-519.

Seaward, B. (2015). Managing stress: Principles and strategies for health and well-being. Sudbury: Jones and Barlett.

Stults-Kolehmainen, M.A., & Sinha, R. (2014). The effects of stress on physical activity and exercise. Sports Medicine, 44(1), 81-121.