Studies have shown that the majority of Americans feel stressed out every day. According to the American Psychological Association, almost half of us eat unhealthy as a result of our stress, and it makes one in three of us depressed. If we don’t find a way to release the pressure we accumulate throughout the day from stressful situations, there can be a variety of negative consequences for our health.

Stress doesn’t just affect the functioning of your mind; it affects your waistline as well. Whenever someone is faced with a stressful situation, their body secretes the hormone cortisol, which is a well-known culprit for causing the accumulation of excess belly fat. When the cause of the stressor goes away, our bodies return to normal. But with all the chronic stressors people live with today such as relationship problems, credit card debt, and facing the possibility of being laid off from a job, the hormone cortisol can stick around for days at a time. Increased and prolonged levels of cortisol leads to an increase in the storage of belly fat. In addition to belly fat, illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, depression, and some cancers are associated with chronic stress.

While many people attempt to relieve stress through taking a bubble bath, watching TV, or taking deep breaths, these methods encourage trying to “think yourself calm” which is not always effective. Since the stress response is a largely physical one, taking a more active, physical approach to relieve the pressure caused by stress can often be more effective. In fact, the latest research suggests that exercise may be the best stress solution!

Exercising – especially performing cardio workouts – may actually remodel the brain to make it more resistant to stress hormones! So the next time stress gets you feeling down, simply get your body moving to help reduce its negative effects on your body and brain.