Stress is a modern epidemic. It's killing millions, and making billions sick and miserable. What can we do to alleviate it? Handling stress requires a combination of techniques and therapies for best results. However, exercise for stress is one of the key components to eliminating it as fast as possible.
Why Exercise For Stress?
To many, exercise is another chore on the list. When you're stressed out, the last thing you want to do is chores. But this chore is one that you need for stress relief.
There's a few key ways that exercise can benefit you during times of stress:
- It can reduce the levels of stress hormones in your body, including cortisol
- It causes the release of feel-good neurotransmitters from the brain, including endorphins
- It can help improve sleep quality, which is essential for the body during periods of stress
- It can boost blood flow and help you to focus on the problem at hand
- It removes you from the stressful situation, giving you a chance to get perspective
So by squeezing in even 10 minutes per day, you can experience these benefits. Why wouldn't you make the most of that?
Ideas For Defeating Stress With Exercise
So what kinds of exercise should you be looking for in order to reduce stress? There's no one single answer. But here are a few ideas for where to start. Give them a go, and see what works for your body and stress levels.
Smash it out
If you're short on time and feeling super stressed, exercise can still come to your rescue. The answer is HIIT, or high intensity interval training. This type of workout can be done in just a few minutes per day. It also has a huge impact on your body, in a good way!
Your first step is to decide on a type of exercise to use. This might be running, skipping, cycling or any other kind of exercise that can be done at a high intensity.
You can also download a Tabata app for your phone. This will time your intervals. For your intense intervals, you go as hard and fast as you can. Then your rest periods, you can have a quick breather, or slow to a walk/slow spin.
Slow it down
Sometimes, intense exercise can seem like too much hard work. This is particularly true if you're hitting the exhaustion point. But that doesn't mean you're off the hook – you just need a slower option.
Exercise that focuses on breathing and conscious movement like yoga, pilates and tai chi still offer stress relief benefits.
In fact, the breathing they teach in these movements can physically reduce stress. Belly breathing can help switch your body from fight-or-flight state, our stressed state, over to our rest-and-digest state.
Your mind might still be racing, but your body won't suffer the effects of stress as badly. Often, your mind will slow down and find a state of calm after some gentle movement and breathing.
Pump some weights
If you're looking for exercise that keeps your body healthy and strong, boosts your metabolism and relieves stress, this is it. Any kind of stress training can offer these benefits – bodyweight, free weights and machine workouts.
What makes strength training so special? It comes down to the science of building muscle. When you use weights that strain your muscles, you make micro-tears in the muscles. In response, your body releases much higher levels of endorphins to protect you from pain.
Want to maximize your feel-good feelings? Go for big muscle groups, not isolated exercises. Doing some squats, pushups and planks will give you a better result than bicep and tricep work.
Do something fun
Exercise doesn't always have to be gruelling and boring. In fact, sometimes it can be incredibly enjoyable! If you feel the pressure building up, why not give a fun activity a try?
There's no limit to what you do, as long as it's moving your body. Parents might like to run around the local playground with their little ones. Lovers of the extreme might go rock-climbing or skiing. Playful people might try a dance class at their local studio.
Whatever it is, make sure that it's fun for you! When you're having fun, it's hard to be stressed. The enjoyment factor also means you'll be releasing more feel-good neurotransmitters from the brain. You can't beat that!
Get out into nature
If you really need to reduce stress, stat, then it's time to hit it with a two-in-one. By combining exercise with spending time outside in nature, you've got two techniques in one.
One of the most important methods for stress relief in Japan is Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. It might sound a bit silly, but spending time in nature has a proven and significant impact on stress levels.
There's plenty of theories as to why this happens. It could be that it allows us to re-sync our bodies and circadian rhythms with the environment around us. The higher intake of oxygen can help us to think more clearly. It could be entirely psychological in nature.
How it works isn't important. The fact that it does work is the important part. So pack a snack pack and hit a hiking trail, or take a walk to your local park. Get out into the great outdoors, and feel your stress melt away.
Find what suits you
At the end of the day, exercise for stress is a very personal thing. Some people will thrive off an intense workout that leaves them breathless and unable to move. Others will do better with a slower paced workout that calms the nervous system.
Whatever does work for you, use it. If you know you have a stressful period of time coming up, schedule it in. And don't hesitate to use it when everything seems overwhelming.
No one has ever regretted a workout during a stressful time. You'll walk out feeling calmer and more clear-headed. And that sounds like a pretty sweet deal to us.