A study of 135 college students proves what you’ve probably already experienced: People who make time for walking, hiking and other exercise report less anxiety and fewer physical problems (such as headaches, nausea and fatigue) during periods of heavy daily stress than sedentary folks.

stress exercise

The results of the study, conducted at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, suggests that something about doing physical activity itself is the key to distressing, rather than how fit you become through your workouts, says lead author Cindy L. Carmack, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist.

In the study, people who got high marks on a treadmill test for aerobic fitness were just as likely to report being stressed as folk who were less fit. That means the other benefits of exercise-perhaps the distraction or the sense of self-confidence it provides-likely explain the stress relieving results. The bottom line: You don’t have to run a marathon-getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week will help mellow you out. Doing more ups the benefit, says Carmack, as long as you don’t overtrain.