By now, we’re all in agreement that exercise is vitally important to our physical health, from protecting our hearts to maintaining a healthy weight. But, its benefits don’t stop there. Exercise plays a key role in promoting energy levels, maintaining strong muscles and bones, and improving mental cognition. And, as anyone who’s ever absconded from their desk for a lunchtime workout can attest, it’s also a useful weapon in the fight against work-related stress.
According to a study from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), “Seven out of ten adults in the United States say they experience stress or anxiety daily. And most say it interferes at least moderately with their lives.” So, if you’re feeling stressed, you’re certainly not alone. But, there are ways to mitigate its effects on your life. And, one of the healthiest ways to do just that is—yep, you guessed it—exercise.
How Work-Related Stress Affects Your Body
Working long hours with constant deadlines and a demanding boss can take a lot out of you. We deal with these things five day per week (or more), often without the rare holiday or vacation to recharge. This can leave your work-life balance out of whack. That’s when some of the most serious effects of stress can set in.
Stress can impact your health, happiness, and mood, with serious side effects, including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, more acute consequences on your body may include everything from headache, muscle pain, and fatigue to digestive issues and trouble sleeping.
The Mayo Clinic also notes the importance of finding active ways to manage your stress levels. Activities like watching TV or playing video games might seem relaxing in the short term. However, they can actually increase your stress over the long term. Enter: exercise.
How Exercise Combats Stress
It might seem counterintuitive, but even the most rigorous workouts can be relaxing. That’s because exercise releases endorphins. These are feel-good neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of pleasure and the negation of pain. And the rush of endorphins doesn’t stop as soon as your workout is over.
The American Council on Exercise says that one exercise session—even one as short as 20 minutes—can generate up to two hours of relaxation response that improves your mood and leaves you feeling calm. And, while in-office workouts might be great time savers, ACE suggests getting outdoors or finding another neutral location, like your local gym, so that you can exercise in a stress-free environment.
Exercising to reduce work-related stress can certainly be helpful at the office. The ADAA notes that exercise is “vital for maintaining mental fitness.” Additionally, it’s effective at easing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. So, if stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate at work, exercise is there to pick you back up.
Regular exercise helps multiple aspects of life.
The effects of regular exercise also extend outside of the office. A 2017 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that people who get adequate exercise (and sleep), are less likely to bring their work stress home. Specifically, it found favorable results for study participants who exercised the most. They were less likely to take their stress out on the people they lived with. In this case, those people recorded more than 10,900 steps each day compared to those who recorded fewer than 7,000.
All those steps resulted in an additional 587 burned calories for the less-stressed participants. That led University of Central Florida Professor Shannon Taylor to note that burning those extra calories “can reduce the harmful effects of [workplace] mistreatment and help prevent it from carrying into the home.”
That amount of calories can reasonably be burned during an intense HIIT or spin class, or by taking a brisk 90-minute walk. But, the point isn’t to literally hit 587 calories per day. It’s to imbue your life with regular activity for overall health, wellness, and stress-reduction. This leads to a happier life inside and outside the office. And, per the study, that carries over into your relationships.
“I think the study gives us a new perspective on the importance of getting an adequate amount of sleep and exercise,” adds Taylor. “It’s not just good for you, it’s good for your spouse, too.”