Pound the pavement to beat stress

It's one of the most common health problems facing Americans today -- a condition that can cause misery, illness and even lead to an early death.

It's dealing with stress, and if you're facing this condition yourself (and who isn't?) there's a step you can take right now to fight back -- and it's a step out your front door and down the street.

A simple walk, jog or run -- or any other form of exercise -- can help the body and brain when you're dealing with stress. But if you don't want to take my word for it, ask the mice that took part in a new stress-busting study.

One set of mice was given access to a wheel and allowed to exercise, while a second set wasn't.

The ones who had access to the wheel had higher levels of the brain neurons that produce GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps you to calm down by shushing the neurons in the brain that fire in times of stress.

The exercising mice didn't just have the extra GABA when they exercised. They had it all the time -- allowing them to cope better with stressful situations anytime and anywhere.

They even handled being placed in icy water better than mice that didn't exercise.

And to top it all off, the exercising mice were willing to venture out and explore new areas -- a sign of more confidence and less anxiety.

I realize this is a study on mice dealing with stress, not people. But this is consistent with what we know about the human brain and how it handles stress. And if you're fighting some tension yourself, make like the mice in the study and get yourself moving.

Along with helping to produce the GABA needed to fight stress, regular exercise can also release a blast of endorphins, the "feel-good" chemical in the brain that can help fight stress, pain, depression and more.

(Did you know that not dealing with stress is as bad for your health as a smoking habit? And it can send your heart-attack risk shooting through the roof. Click here to learn more.)

And of course, regular exercise -- even light exercise -- can help reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and more. And if that's not enough, exercise can help you to improve strength, balance and coordination and reduce the risk of falls.

You don't need to join a gym, and you don't have to work out until you're ready to pass out.

All you need to do is get up and get moving a little each day. Go for a walk or a jog... take up hiking... play some tennis... or engage in some of my own favorite activities, such as ice skating and bicycling.

And for more on dealing with one common source of stress, keep reading.