Could Your Workout Protect You From Workplace Stress?

Even if you absolutely love what you do, the workplace can be – and often is – a very stressful place. That’s likely not any sort of major revelation.

In other exceedingly familiar news, exercise is really good at helping you deal with stress. People have known that much – on a fairly instinctive level – for a very, very long time. The exact mechanism at work here, however, is a pretty new finding. And researchers are still uncovering just how far this stress-reduction goes. Especially as it relates to the very particular stress placed on us by our jobs.

But what makes workplace stress such a special form of evil? And could your workout protect your from workplace stress?

What’s Happening At Work

For starters, workplace stress is by far the most common form of stress that people deal with. After all, most people work in one way or another.

Depending on your schedule, you also likely spend lots of time in that stressful environment. A full-time – 40 hour per week – job, for example, takes up about 35 percent of your waking hours each week. But then you also need to consider your commute, which is about 25 minutes each way for the average American. And that can easily be a stressful experience.

Strictly speaking, that extra hour isn’t “workplace stress,” of course, because it occurs in a place other than where you work. But it still means that you get to work stressed, stay that way all day and then come home in the same state.

So, workplace stress is a frequent and long-lasting pressure that nearly everyone has to deal with.

And this is probably why workplace stress has such a strong connection with depression, anxiety, lowered immune function, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Fixing It

Which is where exercise comes in.

Not only does exercise change the way that your brain processes stress – protecting your neurological system from any lasting damage – but it also directly impacts your mood and how you handle changing situations. One 2008 study, for example, found that people who exercised on work days felt happier, managed their time better, were more productive, and were just generally less stressed.

Interestingly, these benefits were not seen in people who exercised on their off days.

That doesn’t mean, though, that exercising on non-workdays is useless. Again, there is the fact that physical activity – regardless of exactly when it happens – can help to improve your brain’s stress-buffer system (which most definitely has a more scientific name than that).

But studies have also found that people who are in good physical condition can endure the same amount of perceived stress while suffering fewer, and less dramatic, cardiovascular impacts. For example, less fit individuals would actually experience an increase in LDL cholesterol when exposed to workplace stress. More fit subjects, though, saw no change.

Regular workouts, then, can create a sort of buffer around both your body and your brain, protecting you from the negative impacts of workplace stress.