Thursday, November 26th, 2020

Managing stress through Exercise and Nutrition

By Nicole Yamanaka on Mar 01 2010 • Filed under Health

You’ve heard it before: “Exercise causes the body to release a chemical called endorphins, also known as ‘feel good’ hormones…”  

Well, it’s true. Endorphins have the effect of reducing pain and can cause a state of euphoria, similar to those after eating chocolate. Hmm, let’s try a healthier example – after a good workout, like a “runner’s high.”  

Exercise helps with stress management: 

Studies show that individuals who are more physically active, or participate in moderate levels of exercise, are less adversely affected by stressors. Being fit boosts the immune system, as your body responds quickly to handle bacteria and viruses, especially seen in studies of the immune function during moderate exercise. 

There is a difference between moderate exercise and intense exercise. A study at the Appalachian State University1,2 described moderate exercise as “walking at 70 – 75% of their VO2Max for 40 minutes a day.” These subjects showed a 50% reduced incidence of sick days and sore throats, versus those that did not exercise.

Choose activities that offer the following things: 

Distraction is wonderful. If you can find an activity that temporarily takes your mind off your one main annoyance, the mental break often helps you find a solution to the problem, provides you with the ability to manage it with greater clarity and focus. 

Social support or connection through exercise is a “two for one” deal that makes physical activity so effective. It doesn’t quite feel like hard work when you’re encouraging and laughing with others. 

Challenges you. If you’re a Type A (like me), pick an activity that is challenging enough that you’re not bored. The feeling of accomplishment and mastery is a great positive stimulant. 

Exercises for stress: 

Typical options that are easily accessible to most include weight training, yoga or walking/hiking. The outdoors, fresh air and nature have a whole other positive effect on the psyche. For those that like to get a little more intensity into their programs, consider running, karate or swimming (and hot tub afterwards!). Activities that can be done with friends, like group aerobics or spinning classes, I enjoy because no one gets left behind. 

Nutrition for stress: 

Notice how nutrition is the first thing that goes out the window when stressed? Salt, sugar, caffeine, fat – you name it, there is a poison for everyone! I need not preach over the negative body effects of unhealthy habits; you’re savvy.  

Fear not, it’s easier than you think to eat healthy. Try these ideas instead of coffee and instant food to feel good AND save money. 

  • Vegetables. Celery, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, cucumber slices, oh the list goes on and on with these wonderful, tasty, nutrient packed bits. If you want to add some fun, a little low fat, home made dressing to dip can make it more tasty!
  • Nuts and seeds. Choose unsalted and with the shells on, and raw versus roasted, if you can find that option. If you are a boredom eater, shelled seeds will give your hands something to do.
  • Teas. Green and white teas are high in antioxidants that help fight free radicals. Herbal teas often have a soothing and warming effect on the body. Avoid black tea and coffee, as the stimulant from the caffeine boost simply adds to your stress response.
  • Sparkling water. You may not drink coffee, but perhaps you opt for energy drinks or colas, instead? The chemicals and caffeine are doing more harm in the long run, and the short term benefits are all too temporary. Add lemon, or cooled herbal tea, to sparkling water for a tasty, natural substitute.
  • Breakfast of champions. Maintaining stable blood sugar levels helps you function better during the day, helps you focus, work more efficiently and saves you money! Double good!
  • Just throw it away. Chances are, if you have a hidden “stash” of junk food in your home, you will find it. Quickly. Often. Show them the garbage can! Your brain tells you that you need it, but it’s a reflex wired into your system that you can easily undo by starting with this step. With practice, it becomes easier to avoid and you’ll never know what you were missing.

Lifestyle management tips: 

Finally, I leave you with suggestions that can be started right this second: 

  • Plan for an extra 10 minutes of sleep, aiming for 8 hours per night
  • Stretch
  • Enjoy a healthy sex life
  • Laugh and play.  

Incorporate some of these into your daily, weekly, and even monthly life. Being stress-free doesn’t need to be stress-full and it can take only minutes of practice to have long-term and immediate benefits.

1. Nieman DC, Henson DA, Austin MD, Brown VA. The immune response to a 30-minute walk. Med Sci Sports Exerc 37:57-62, 2005. David Nieman, of Appalachian State University

2. Nieman DC. Risk of Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in Athletes: An Epidemiologic and Immunologic Perspective. Journal of Athletic Training 1997 Oct.


  1. Fabulous ideas, info I didn’t have before, but now, I do! And as for stress relief, I find punctuating everything with an exclamation mark, very relaxing!!! Hehehe!!! Kidding, Nik, but a great article, and now I have some new info in my head! 🙂

  2. Great suggestions. I would add to that Journaling at the end of the day to get the racing thoughts off the mind.
    it’s a very powerful and useful tool. Try even starting a blog to express yourself more. Alot of times people just want to be heard.

    Finally, if you find yourself doing the same things, the bad habits just seem to wont go anywhere, then seek out a Health and Lifestyle Coach. The help you to meet your goals in a clear and strategic way without all the fuss.

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