moderate - intensity exercise


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We are officially into Week 4 of our stress & mindfulness challenge. I hope you are continuing to make new discoveries, that you feel encouraged and inspired and that you are finding new practices that you can implement to feel better and and cope with life’s stressful events each day.

Were you able to implement any changes in your regular food and nutrition routine this past week? What new practices, related to nutrition, were you able to substitute for less-healthy food-related coping habits? My hope is that you found at least one thing that you enjoy that you can make a part of your lifestyle moving forward.

Before I dive into this week’s focus I want to remind everyone that we can’t simply stop or “get rid of'" our less healthy habits. We have to replace them with a new habit and this new habit needs to meet THREE main criteria:

  1. It is something we enjoy & look forward to.

  2. It is something that gives us a similar feedback to the less healthy habit we are replacing.

  3. It needs to fit into our schedule.

Remember that as you continue to implement any food and nutrition changes these next few weeks.

And this brings us to today’s focus of managing stress with EXERCISE. This criteria above absolutely applies to our exercise as well!


We all know that exercise is important to our health and well being. What I have found interesting in a handful of studies that I recently came across is the type of exercise that has been found to be more beneficial for stress management in some individuals. I’m currently doing research on the most effective type of exercise for weight loss; however, I’m noting that my findings there are not quite the same as my findings for stress management.

Everyone is different, so, of course, stick with the exercise(s) that work best for you, but I’m going to share with you a few studies that support low to moderate intensity exercise as effective tools for managing stress. This may be a reason to consider adding some yoga, walking and other low-intensity exercise into your typical cardio routine. Or, if you’re not an exerciser at all, this may be a good reason to start slow and steady vs jumping in to running or intense cardio classes. I know I will certainly be giving it a try!

Please note, this is independent of cardiovascular outcomes, fitness outcomes, etc. I am only referring to stress in this post.


Exercise reduces depression & inflammation but intensity matters

(from the Biological Psychology Journal, 2014)

  • Study looked at moderate continuous training (MCT) & high intensity interval training (HIIT)

  • MCT decreased symptoms of depression and decreased perceived stress

  • HIIT decreased symptoms of depression but increased perceived stress

  • Concluded in this study that moderate - intensity exercise is optimal when looking at mental health


a 12-month exercise intervention decreased stress symptoms & increased mental resources among working adults - results perceived after a 12-month follow-up

(International Journal of Occupational Medicine & Environmental Health, 2008)

  • Study looked at stress symptoms (SS) and mental resources (MR). Mental Resources are the tools that we use to cope

  • Heart rate at moderate level (60 - 80% max heart rate) in 3 to 5 exercise sessions per week. Sessions consisted of walking, biking and skiing

  • During the intervention: SS decreased 16%, MR increased 8%

  • Those with highest SS at baseline had the biggest SS decrease (26%)

  • At 12-month follow-up: SS still decreased 13%, MR still increased 5%

  • The control group (had no supervised exercise program), had no significant changes


exercise and circulating cortisol levels: the intensity threshold effect

(Journal of Endocrinology Investigation, 2008)

  • Study looked at the percent change in cortisol circulation from pre and post workouts at varying intensities

    • Resting control: -6.6%

    • Low intensity (40% VO2 max): 5.7%

    • Moderate intensity (60% VO2 max): 39.9%

    • High intensity (80% VO2 max): 83.1%

  • Moderate to high intensity exercise will significantly increase amount of cortisol circulating in the body

  • Low intensity does not significantly increase cortisol and actually results in a reduction in cortisol circulation after taking into account plasma volume reduction & circadian factors.


(with the help of my fabulous intern who researched & tested all of these!)

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Happy Fueling & Take Care!