Get Moving to Get Rid of Stress

by Tegan E. Johnson-Galvez, DPTExercise for Stress

Is work stressing you out? As we approach National Employee Health and Fitness month, think about using exercise to combat stress at work. Research shows regular exercise improves your reaction to stress, decreases recovery times from stress, and reduces long term effects that stress and anxiety can have on your body.

Cortisol, a hormone that is released within the body in response to stress, is greatly reduced with aerobic exercise. Cortisol is infamous for its negative effects on the body such as increasing blood sugar and suppressing the immune system and your metabolism. Increased levels of cortisol can also impair learning and diminish bone formation, increasing your risk of osteoporosis. Exercise can combat these adverse effects on your body by raising resistance to brain injury and improving mental performance through increasing brain growth factors.

Taking a short break from a problem or stressful situation to exercise allows your brain to rest and recharge. Energy and muscle exertion during exercise gives your brain a much needed respite. Studies show that when you return to a problem after exercise your brain is significantly more resilient to stress’ effects.

If you are looking for ways to incorporate more exercise into your busy day, try biking to or from work. Take a brisk walk during lunch hour or while taking a break. Climb the stairs after a meeting or between tasks. To avoid burn-out at work, try to sustain a regular workout routine. Use the company gym before or after work, take a yoga class once or twice a week, or walk with a friend in your neighborhood.

Remember that our bodies are not made for sitting for prolonged periods of time. Although many people feel they cannot exercise due to joint or muscle pain caused by sitting for prolonged periods, exercise can in fact help to alleviate some of these resulting minor injuries and strains. Dealing with minor injuries or pain may even be a stressor that increases your cortisol levels. Break the cycle of pain by performing some low intensity exercises such as using a stationary bicycle, arc trainer, elliptical machine, or practicing therapeutic exercises. In addition to exercise, you can reduce cortisol levels by regular dancing, treating yourself to a massage, laughing, and consuming foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium.

So if stress and anxiety are one of the reasons you have been using to avoid exercise, make sure to improve your exercise regularity to fight the impact anxiety has on you instead.



Smith, JC.  Department of Kinesiology University of Maryland. Effects of emotional exposure on state anxiety after acute exercise. Med Sci Sports and Exercise. 2013 Feb; 45 (2):372-378.

Salmon, P. Effects of physical exercise on anxiety, depression, and sensitivity to stress. Clinical Psychology Review 2001 Feb: 21 (1):33-61.

Berchtold, N. et al. Exercise: a behavioral intervention to enhance brain health and plasticity. Trends in NeuroScience 2002 Jun: 25 (6): 295-301.

Effects of aerobic exercise on anxiety sensitivity, Behaviour Research and Therapy Volume 42, Issue 2, February 2004, Pages 125–136


About the Author:

Tegan E. Johnson-Galvez, DPT is a physical therapist for BaySport in Los Gatos, California.  She has practiced orthopedic physical therapy for the past nine years and is skilled in treating most orthopedic conditions from low back pain and common joint pain, to post-surgical patients and injuries after accidents. She works with many patients that struggle with finding balance between their work and their health. Tegan is also involved in BaySportLife, a clinically based health improvement program where participants are guided through diet and exercise strategies to help them reach their personal health goals.

For more information about BaySport’s physical therapy services or the BaySportLife program, go to

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