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How does physical exercise help reduce stress? © Getty Images

How does physical exercise help reduce stress?

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Physical exercise is beneficial for both body and mind, but how can hitting the gym have such a positive mental effect?

Asked by: Lucie Coltman, via Twitter


Research clearly shows that physical exercise can reduce stress and anxiety, but it’s less clear how this occurs. Multiple mechanisms are likely to be important. Exercise can help to reduce the body’s response to stress by boosting serotonin levels in the brain.

It can also give us a sense of achievement and increase our self-esteem, which can provide psychological routes by which to reduce stress. Finally, research shows that exercise taken in moderate amounts and at appropriate times of the day can improve our sleep. Good sleep quality can help us to regulate our emotions and therefore provides another way in which physical exercise helps to reduce stress.


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Alice is a Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths. She has contributed to several diverse research areas, including the longitudinal associations between sleep and psychopathology, behavioural genetics, sleep paralysis and exploding head syndrome. In addition to her scientific contributions she also excels in the public engagement of science. She has published two popular science book (Nodding Off, Bloomsbury, 2018 and Sleepy Pebble, Nobrow, 2019). She regularly contributes articles to the media and has had her work published in outlets including the Guardian, GQ UK, Sud Ouest, Slate Fr, Independent.


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