Are You Too Stressed to Exercise?

Dr. Frank Shallenberger, MD

October 10, 2022


After 40+ years of witnessing how people get sick, I have to say that the number one reason is stress. And stress is way up right now.

Since the pandemic, we’ve had plenty of civil unrest, economic issues, and political fighting.

Add to that the amazing amount of stuff we all carry on our plates. Between possible health problems and the various responsibilities of money issues, family issues, and work issues, there’s a lot of pressure.

Some people use exercise as a form of stress relief. But some people feel too stressed to exercise.

As you may know, I’m a strong advocate of exercise. Regular exercise will do more to keep you healthy than anything else. But if you feel too stressed to exercise, a new study may help.

This new study indicates that rather than stress being a reason not to exercise, it is actually one of the best reasons to hit the gym.

The authors of the study explain that the “cross-stressor adaptation” theory suggests that regular exercise decreases the negative effects of psychological stress on our bodies.

It’s a good theory, but is it true? That’s what they asked themselves and so they set out to find out. Here’s what they did.

They enlisted the help of 61 students and divided them into two groups, an exercise group, and a couch-potato group. Then they used heart-rate variability testing to measure their response during two stressful days during the end of the semester examination period. Heart-rate variability measures slight differences in heart rate and is an excellent indicator of how much psychological stress is affecting someone.

What they found was that the students who had been regularly exercising had significantly reduced stress levels compared to their couch friends.

In the researchers’ own words, “Using a randomized, controlled trial and a real-life stressor, we could show that exercise appears to be a useful preventive strategy to buffer the effects of stress on the autonomic nervous system, which might result in detrimental health outcomes.”

So there you have it. If you are like me and have a lot on your plate, make it a point to stay in shape. It doesn’t take much. Just 30 minutes of focused aerobic interval training three times a week will do it.

And if you’re in the over-50 group, it’s even more important. Because the older we are, the more likely stress is to affect us.


von Haaren, B., J. Ottenbacher, et al. “Does a 20 week aerobic exercise training programme increase our capabilities to buffer real-life stressors? A randomized, controlled trial using ambulatory assessment.” Eur J Appl Physiol., 2016 February;116(2):383-94.

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