Exercise protects against symptoms of stress

November 08, 1999

Leisure physical activity may help guard people against physical symptoms and anxiety associated with life1s daily stresses, according a recent study of college students.

"Minor, everyday stress contributes to the development and exacerbation of physical and mental health problems. However, people experiencing minor stress develop different degrees of symptoms, depending on their level of physical activity," said lead researcher Cindy L. Carmack, PhD, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Past research has shown that the cumulative effects of minor stresses of daily living, such as having car trouble or being late for work, are more likely than major life events to cause physical and psychological complaints. Daily minor stress has been linked to changes in blood glucose levels among diabetics, disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, and psychological distress.

In the study, published in the current issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 135 undergraduate university students completed questionnaires measuring their recent minor stressful events, major life events, mood, physical complaints and symptoms, physical activity, and general health. The research team then looked at the ways in which exercise and aerobic fitness buffer the effects of stress.

The results suggest that leisure physical activity buffers the effects of symptoms and anxiety related to minor stress, but that aerobic fitness does not. For participants with low levels of stress, there were low reports of symptoms; however, as stress increased, symptoms increased more for those with low levels of leisure physical activity.

The mental health benefits of physical activity may increase in proportion to the total amount of activity, which may be more important than the manner in which it is performed (i.e. intensity or mode). Leisure physical activity may help to minimize stress-related symptoms because it distracts the person from stressors or because it instills a sense of accomplishment, which in turn improves the person1s mood.
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Annals of Behavioral Medicine is the official peer-reviewed publication of The Society of Behavioral Medicine. For information about the journal, contact Arthur Stone, PhD, 516-632-8833.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health < http://www.cfah.org >. For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, < pchong@cfah.org > (202) 387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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