Exercise Therapy

How it works

Exercise is one of the best ways of reducing stress. It makes our bodies release powerful brain chemicals called endorphins to help keep our spirits up, and keep levels of the stress hormone cortisol down.

Exercise comes in many forms to fit different lifestyles, and scheduling it regularly into your life can help give structure and self-control if lack of these is a source of stress.

What it could help

Aches and pains, depression, fatigue, insomnia, pain relief, migraine, anxiety, IBS, panic attacks, anger, high blood pressure, irritability.

Evidence base

Research suggests that as little as five minutes of exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects on our bodies, with similar positive effects on children and adolescents too, making it suitable for all age groups. Studies differ on the long term effect of exercise on stress, however. This could be down to individual variations in participants or that they are undergoing additional treatments.

What to expect

Exercise can be in any form you desire. It can take place at home, a park or in a gym and can be as simple or extreme as you can handle. NHS guidelines suggest that adults under the age of 65 need 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise such as cycling, walking briskly or aqua aerobics to stay healthy.

You can exercise alone or in groups, and pay as much as you wish. You can expect to feel more positive straightaway as exercise can make you forget what has been stressing you out as you focus on something different.

The rapid change of hormonal levels will also change your mood and help you deal with stress.


It is important to do exercise that you enjoy and brings the results you want. Too much exercise can be harmful physically and mentally so don’t push yourself too far.

If you haven’t exercised regularly for a long time, or are recovering from a serious illness or from surgery, consult your doctor first about the best way to get started.

Find out more:

See our articles on Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi.

Find a therapist

www.exerciseregister.org/ is a register of trained and qualified exercise and fitness instructors.

How does exercise therapy work?

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