The Impact of Stress on Exercise

It is believed that psychological stress and physical activity are directly related to each other. However, most research on this subject reveals that physical activity is an instrument to mitigate distress. Many studies vary in their theoretical orientation and included perceived stress, distress, life events, jobs, roles, work-family conflicts but not lifetime cumulative adversity. To make this question clear, it is suggested that stress have a huge negative impact on physical activities and exercises and encourage sedentary behaviour.

Stress is a word to describe experiences that are challenging emotionally and physiologically. This can also be defined as impinging stimulus or what systems are involved and how human body reacts when a state of threatened homeostasis occurs and how the body adapt by activating physiological, biochemical and cognitive-behavioural responses in order to regain homeostasis. After stress reactions the body always follows recovery process. Stress is associated with a host of mental symptoms as well, including cognitive dysfunction, dementia, and excessive fatigue. Stress is directly associated with declined physical activity which potentially may lead to obesity that contribute to other issues such as cardiovascular diseases. Furthermore, delays in recovery from exercise and dampened muscular and neural adaptations are observed with chronic stress.

It is well known that physical activity has many positive effects on the physiological and psychological well-being. However, physical activities act as a stressor to the human body, though not an uncomfortable one.  “Exercise is a behavioural subset of PA and is defined as “Physical activity that is planned, structured, and repetitive and has as a final or intermediate objective the improvement or maintenance of physical fitness” (Caspersen et al, 1985). When the PA and stress relationship is explored, it has typically been within the perspective of improving mental health outcomes via exercise. It is suggested that individuals who participate in physical activities and exercise have lower rates of depression, negative affectivity and anxiety. However, physical activities and exercise has shown to promote positive changes in mental health and ability to deal with stressful situations.

Moreover, exercise appear to improve individual’s depression status. Also randomised clinical trials have determined that exercise and physical activities are effective methods for improving perceived stress, stress symptoms, and quality of life, neutralizes the effect of psychological stressors on cardiac activity. The majority of studies determine an inverse association of stress and physical activity behaviours. It is important to identify high-risk situations ahead of time is useful strategy and individuals that can predict stressors are usually more able to diminish losses associated with stress. Therefore, stressed individuals need to learn the importance of exercise as a method to emotionally cope. On the other hand, as exercise is a complex behaviour for newly active individuals, they require more planning of time.

Though the majority of studies regarding the relationship between stress and physical activity concludes that stress negatively affect physical activities, some individuals are immune to changes in physical activity and thrive under the condition of stress, but this needs to be investigated further. However, most studies suggest that physical activity and exercise can reduce emotional stress and can have a positive impact on individual’s mental health.


Caspersen CJ, Powell KE, Christenson GM Public Health Rep. 1985 Mar-Apr; 100(2):126-31.

Stults-Kolehmainen, M.A., Sinha, R. The Effects of Stress on Physical Activity and Exercise. Sports Med 44, 81–121 (2014)

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