Exercise and Stress Resilience

Exercise and Stress Resilience

You’ve heard it a thousand times: you need to reduce your stress. But what really is stress, and is it actually that big of a deal? When we get stressed, our adrenal glands produce and secret a hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol is a fundamental part of the normal stress response, but too much can cause weight gain, joint discomfort, negative emotions, and other problems. Aside from these bigger issues, stress decreases quality of life. It all adds up, so what can you do about it?

Research has shown that individuals who exercise regularly cope better. When the body is stressed, the cardiovascular system is forced to work harder as heart rate and blood pressure increase. However, individuals who exercise regularly are better able to regulate the heart rate and mood in response to stress. Studies suggest that the stress caused by exercise helps the body adapt to the changes brought on by the sympathetic nervous system response—the fight-or-flight response—such that the body responds more effectively when other stressful situations arise1. In other words, the same nervous system activity that prepares the body for the metabolic needs of exercise also prepare the body to handle stress. Therefore, with regular exercise, the body becomes better prepared and more resilient, thus decreasing the wear of stress on the body.

Many people don’t take stress as seriously as they should because they believe it is just a state of mind that won’t affect them physically. However, recent neurological tests argue that organ function is partly tied to mental state. Research has found that the movement center in the brain, the primary motor cortex, is connected to the adrenal glands, where hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are produced during the stress response2. This suggests that movement, particularly that which involves the core, could play a profound role in stress resilience and may explain why those who exercise regularly respond better in stressful situations. Furthermore, these findings provide explanation for why exercises that focus on the core, such as yoga and Pilates, are often associated with stress relief3.

So what can you do to build your stress resilience?

The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week, to improve cardiovascular health4. Exercise can be broken up into shorter time periods to fit into your daily schedule, such as several 10-minute bouts of exercise per day. Because the axial area of the motor cortex is strongly connected to the stress response, adding in a few core exercises can help your body build stress resilience.
Taking the time to reduce your stress each day can dramatically improve your quality of life and long-term health. The foundation of a stress resilient lifestyle is regular exercise, a healthy diet, and consistent sleep habits. Be sure to consult your physician before making any significant changes to your daily regimen.  


doTERRA Science blog articles are based on a variety of scientific sources. Many of the referenced studies are preliminary and further research is needed to gain greater understanding of the findings. Some articles offer multiple views on general health topics and are not the official position of doTERRA. Consult your healthcare provider before making changes to diet or exercise.

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