Physical Exercise As A Mean Of Reducing Stress

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Stress is commonly experienced by college students and can negatively affect their overall health and wellbeing (Baghurst & Kelley, 2013). Switching from a classroom setting to a computer-based learning, the pressure to succeed academically and the demands of the MACP framework along with daily settings activities are all sources of stress, associated with devastating biopsychosocial consequences.

The purpose of this research was to determine if physical activity “Zomba” is a viable mean of reducing stress as a person who is adjusting to the graduate studies (MACP). Using a single-case self-study research design and employing Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) to measure, track and gather stress data (Appendix 1, Figure 1).

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One participant was observed for two weeks without any intervention plan and then the same participant is observed for another three weeks using one intervention variable: exercise.

The recording perceived stress scale was classified into three intervention reports by recording the reported score of perceived stress at the beginning, midpoint, and final Zumba sessions.

The findings from this single-case self-study and based on the PSS data that were collected (Appendix 2, Figure 1.2), exercise is a viable mean for reducing stress and can be used as a starting aid in the understanding of the impact of Zumba on student’s stress. Besides, recommendations and implications for future students regarding “Safe and Effective Use of Self” (SEUS), are also discussed in this self-study.


Stress reduction, exercise therapy, exercise intervention

Physical Exercise as a Mean of Reducing Stress

Graduate studies are a significantly challenging and rewarding, however, associated with various biopsychological internal and external factors and challenges: such as academic competence, family dynamics and responsibilities, work responsibilities, and social obligations. Timothy Melchert explains in his book, Foundations of Professional Psychology, that there are many contributing biopsychosocial (BPS) factors “at play” in a person’s life (Melchert, 2011). For example, a counselling student may exhibit a psychological problem such as feeling worried, anxious and overwhelmed for just feeling he/she will not be able to meet the academic requirement to succeed in his/her graduate studies in Master Art in Counselling Psychology (MACP) and this will affect his psychological well-being). Clearly, stress is a valid underlining stressor to one’s overall well-being and academic success (Melchert, 2011, p. 34). Therefore, for a student undertaking graduate studies, stress is a significant issue, which if left unmonitored and unmanaged, can result in serious biopsychosocial effects.

Literature Review

Stress, a term coined by Hans Selye in 1936 in a letter to the Editor of Nature (magazine), describes the autonomic non-specific response to physical, mental, and perceived demands of the environment placed on the body (Rosch, 1998). While the source of stress is different for each individual, the body’s physiological response to stress has similarities in all humans (Rosch, 1998). It is estimated that 35-50% of disenrollment from college is due to students’ lack of coping skills under chronic stress (Mohr et al., 2014). Perceived stress, and the subsequent accumulation of stress, is negatively associated with health-related quality of life (Bhandari, 2012). Cohen et al. (1998) report a strong dose-response relationship between psychological stress and the risk of developing a cold, with additional stressful life events causing a greater risk of additional illnesses. Stressful life events such as a loss of job, death of a family member, and pressure in an educational setting have been linked to depressive symptoms, coronary artery disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer (Cohen, Janicki-Deverts, & Miller, 2007). Besides, behavioral changes due to stress, such as over or under-eating, smoking, excessive drinking, decrease in exercise and/or poor medical regimen adherence, create clear pathways for the negative effects of stress on the human body.

Dance provides diverse benefits for the body and mind. It is an effective way for dealing with stress. According to the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA), dance or therapy involves numerous movements, which can improve the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of an individual. (Neil Johnson, 2016) Dance therapy helps to boost self-expression self/reflection in individuals with physiological disorders. Zumba is a dance therapy that involves the fusion of Latin rhythms and various easy-to-follow movements with different kind of styles, including salsa, merengue, mambo, rumba, cumbia, reggaeton, hip-hop and flamenco. The course of Zumba dance, interval-training sessions are carried out with a mixture of fast and low rhythms combined with resistance training. Stress is a reaction to any stimulus that can alter an individual’s physical and mental balance. It stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete a stress hormone called cortisol. Thus, a small dose of cortisol in the body helps in maintaining a normal blood pressure, improving the memory functions and increase one’s energy. Johnson, 2016) However, a high level of cortisol may lead to various problems such as high blood pressure and damaged cognitive functions.

In order to assess one’s stress condition, various methods and scales are used to measure stress level, such as Cohen’s Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) (Cohen, Kamarck, & Mermelstein, 1983) (see Appendix 2) to measure how uncontrollable and unpredictable life events are perceived by the individual. The PSS scale is made up to 10 general questions that are free of content specific to any sub-population or group question and ranked on a 0-4 response scale; where 0 = Never, 1 = Almost Never, 2 = Sometimes, 3 = Fairly Often, and 4 = Very Often. Four questions, 4,5,7 and 8, are positively worded and thus are reverse scored (a mark for 0 or Never would receive 4 points whereas a 4 or Very Often would receive 0 points). PSS scores are based on a 0-40-point scale. Higher scores correspond to higher levels of perceived stress.


“Physical Exercise (Zumba), measured in frequency and duration (number of sessions per week and session duration), will affect stress issue, as measured by PSS and will affect self-satisfaction, confidence and concentration as measured by self-devised Likert scale”

Based on available research considering physical exercise as a potential stress discharge, it appears that exercise is a viable mean of reducing stress. Therefore, I consider conducting forty-five minutes of exercise, following two weeks of no exercise intervention, for three weeks, three days a week, with a particular exercise Zumba class, at the same time every day, will significantly reduce my stress, as I adjust to Yorkville University’s Master of Counselling Psychology Program (MACP)

Method Participant:

This self-study involved one participant: a healthy fit female, married with two sons, an Arabic/English speaking Lebanese/Canadian citizen from Calgary, Alberta, of middle economic status, and with a degree in Special education and a diploma in ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis).


Following two weeks of no specific exercise routine, I conducted a specific exercise program “Zumba 45” consisting of dancing and aerobics three days a week, for forty-five minutes at the same time for three weeks.


Throughout five weeks quantitative data were collected. I measured my weekly stress level using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). The PSS consists of 10 self-report questions, which measure common symptoms of stress with a scoring scale of 0-4 explained as follows:

  • 0 (Never)
  • 1 (Almost Never)
  • 2 (Sometimes)
  • 3 (Often)
  • 4 (Never)

I can determine my PSS score by following these directions: First, I reverse my scores for questions 4, 5, 7, and 8. On these 4 questions, change the scores like (this: 0 = 4, 1 = 3, 2 = 2, 3 = 1, 4 = 0) And then add up my scores for each item to get a total.

The 0-13 would be considered “low stress”, the 14-26 range reflects “moderate stress”, and the 27-40 range reflects “high stress”.


This self-study is consisting of a quantitative single-case design involving one participant, myself, being observed naturally over four weeks with an intervention variable, exercise, to evaluate the impact of exercise on stress. The exercise was conducted in the gym setting among a heterogonous group, with a Latino instructor in a comfortable and well-lit ballroom, using A “Zumba: 45 workout DVD.

At the end of each “Zumba” session, three times a week data were collected and summed via digital Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), as shown in Figure 1 (Appendix 1). Along with a Likert Scale world chart which has been divided into four categories, bassline, Initial, Midpoint, and Final to track the level of my academician concentration and satisfaction, as shown in figure 2 (Appendix 2).

Following the completion of the four-week exercise intervention, the totals for each of the four weeks are summed and plotted in a line graph in order to display the overall results trend, as shown in Figure 1.2 (Appendix 2)


The physical exercise intervention for stress was implemented as intended. All stress data were collected over the four weeks and remained intact as shown in Figure 1.1 (Appendix 1). The PSS total range potential was between 0-40. My PSS bassline / probe session scored 30 means “high level of stress”, categorized by fear, worried, feeling hot, afraid, nervous, unsatisfied and lot of negative self talk. Followed by two initial sessions which both scored 28, means high of moderate stress.

Through out the first week, my stress level scored a high level of stress, making the adjustment to the MACP program lagging and difficult to ease down due to the demands and the amount of assignments to complete and submit. Week two featured a grand score of 23, a drop of 5 points from week one. Most of the week two Zumba sessions scored a “moderate perceived stress” category with a windmill of hesitation ideas and thoughts that affect my thoughts and attitudes. However, by looking at the ‘Likert scale” level of satisfaction and concentration score, a contradiction data was showing (satisfaction/4), maybe because stress has a positive effect sometimes as it boosts, motivates, and makes you more creative (determined) to finish your tasks. Thus, Stress pushes us to change, to fight, to grow and to adapt with any new consequences.

The third week sessions showed a total score of 19, and a gain by a drop with four points from the second week and by eight points from the first week. During this week, I was trying to make this fear and stress as a friend of mine and try to cope with it as a part of my daily tasks. I wanted to train myself to manage my feelings and behaviors in the presence of these stereotypic behaviors. I wanted to adapt my tics of fears into tics of achievement. Considering this quote: “Worry is like a good rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”

The outcome result of week four scored 11 to hit a low stress level and to show a significant progress and dropping from a “high level of stress” to a low level of stress. In this week, I was more comfortable and relaxed in dealing with the constriction created by my MACP study.


The results from this four-week self-study appear to confirm not only Lee and Hopkins’ research findings that exercise, whether moderate or high intensity for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, will have a positive impact on cognition, academic achievement, and psychosocial function (Lee & Hopkins, 2013), but also affirm my research hypothesis that hitting the gym for forty five minutes of physical exercise, three days a week with a particular intervention program (Zumba) will significantly reduce my stereotypic stress feeling. This was reflected on my attitude and behavior, such as: feeling more energetic, balancing my daily tasks along with my study course demands, coping with my mood swing and stress level shifting and addressing my challenges and fears through self talk and self reflection. Besides, achieving a good level of concentration in my MACP academic performance, along with “to do list” to organize my time as I adjust to Yorkville University’s Master of Counselling Psychology program (MACP).

I am not surprised with the outcome of the intervention plan. In fact, from the beginning of the self-study I felt confident that subsequent scores would indicate the exercise therapy was effective.

The key to facilitate the integrity of this self-study is to be honest, consistence and aware with the PSS so that accurate PSS measurements can be taken and the effectiveness of exercise as a viable mean of reducing stress levels can be confirmed. Yet, I was puzzled with the overall higher scores in the beginning of the self-study, but not surprised with the significant decline in stress levels. Bearing in mind, for a behavior to be adjusted or controlled, it should first reach the climate before it scales down, besides, that relaxation technique (Zumba) is a skill; as with any skill, your ability to relax improves with practice. Be patient with yourself. Don’t let your effort to practice relaxation techniques become yet another stressor. Moreover, keep reminding yourself that if you desire something badly, you can achieve it.

“Aerobic exercise has been reported to protect people from the harmful consequences of stress (Salmon, 2001)”, and it was also reported that when more than a certain amount of physical activity is performed during leisure time, it lowers the probability of feeling stressed” (Aldana et al., 1996). Thus, people who exercise 2 to 3 times a week have been reported to exhibit a lower level of stress than those who exercise less frequently or who do not exercise at all (Hassmén et al., 2000)

In short, based on the supporting research, the design of this self-study, and the PSS data that were collected, as shown in Figure 1.1 and Figure 1.2 (Appendix 1, 2), it appears that my hypothesis is correct: Exercise is a viable mean of reducing stress.

Reflections and Recommendations

With self-appreciation, I would like to have the opportunity to thank all my colleagues for the nice learning spirits that we have approached and shared throughout this course. Moreover, I would like to reflect and pinpoint the master skills that I have nourished from this collaboration/motivation learning opportunity. In this loop of interactive self-study, I acquired a better understanding how various ways of sharing information can lead to various levels of understanding. For example, I believe that the discussions/feedback and reflections exchanged by DQs enable us to have a deep critical thinking in developing new knowledge that empowers us to become professional counsellors and collectively confront any bias in this learning model. Thus, the main skills that I learned is how to listen with passion and empathy, how to think in a flexible way and how to remain open to continuous learning.

We embarked on this journey as friends because we wanted to take the opportunity to grow our experiment and skills further. My advice for future students starting the MACP program is: Be able to identify “self and effect use of self” as a potential skill for becoming a professional counsellor who can conduct a biopsychosocial intervention plan considering a positive inner talk with self, have a good listening ear and shoulder to help a patient with his problems. Besides, I would recommend them to take the time to envision the SESUS Self-Study as a personal loop of opportunity not only identify the integrated biopsychosocial factors impacting one’s daily behaviour and functioning, but also as an opportunity to become better equipped in order to meet the demands of the MACP program, as well as being able to authentically and vivaciously administer the duties of professional psychology.

Along with the above mentioned, I highly recommend each student to consider physical exercise as a serious and effective mean to reduce stress, increase self-satisfaction, confidence and maladjustment” (Melchert, p. 205). Thus, promote for overall psychological well-being.

Again, take a deep breath and repeat few magical words: “I am doing the best I can”. Believe, trust and love yourself in order to move forward in your learning journey. Take a compassion break by giving yourself a hug; it might sound silly but it works!


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