When you’re under a lot of stress and feeling overwhelmed, exercising is probably the last thing you want to do. But it is actually one of the best things you can do to help ease your stress level.
Exercise can have a positive effect on your stress levels—both physically and mentally. Exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones in your brain. Any type of physical activity can help boost your mood, get your mind off your troubles, and release tension in your body. It can even improve your quality of sleep, which is key to helping manage the stress in your life.
After a workout, you may instantly feel better and more relaxed, but the positive feelings can also build up over time if you stick to a regular exercise schedule, benefitting your overall health and well-being for the long term.
Just getting active and moving can help you de-stress, but there are specific kinds of exercise that offer the most benefits when it comes to stress reduction.
Yoga consists of a series of poses and postures that build strength and flexibility, which help release tension in your body. It also incorporates deep breathing that automatically helps you relax. Yoga’s biggest benefit for stress management is that it requires mental focus. When doing any type of yoga, you’re focused on the poses and your breathing, so you are more focused on what your body is doing and not worrying or thinking about your problems.
There are several different types of yoga, but hatha yoga is a more gentle form and focuses on reducing stress. Hatha yoga is also a good type of yoga for beginners to start with. Other forms such as ashtanga, Bikram, or power yoga are more challenging and require more athleticism, but can have stress reduction benefits as well. You can practice yoga at home on your own with a DVD or one of the many yoga channels on YouTube. Or if you prefer group exercise, look for a yoga class at gyms, YMCAs, community colleges, and yoga studios in your area.
Tai Chi comes from an ancient form of Chinese martial arts and is another activity that involves fluid physical movement linked to the breath. Tai Chi requires you to focus on the present, while increasing flexibility and balance and boosting your energy. Unlike in yoga, there are no stops and starts with Tai Chi, but rather a consistent, fluid series of movements, focusing on your breath.
There are several different styles that range in intensity. You can find classes in Tai Chi at many wellness centers or studios, or try it out at home with a DVD or online instruction.
The easiest and most convenient form of exercise is also one of the best for reducing stress. If you are feeling particularly overwhelmed or anxious, lace up your sneakers and head outside for a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Walking releases tension in your body and deepens your breathing, forcing you to relax. And it gets you outside in nature, which has an immediate calming effect. Walking on a regular basis can not only reduce stress but it can also reduce the risks for heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.
Best of all, walking does not require any special equipment or special training. If you’re sedentary, start out with two 10-minute walks per week, and gradually increase the frequency and length of your walks as your stamina and fitness levels improve. For long-term health benefits and stress management, aim for five to six 30-minute walks per week.
Swimming. Being in water can have a relaxing and calming effect. Swimming offers a full-body, low-impact workout that’s easy on your joints and soothing to your muscles. Swimming laps requires you to focus on the strokes and your breathing. This type of rhythmic breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and relaxation.
If swimming sounds like an activity that interests you, most YMCAs and some recreation centers and gyms have indoor pools. In warm weather, swimming outdoors in warmer water can be even more relaxing. It’s important though to practice safety when swimming; never swim alone.
You don’t have to have perfect form for swimming, you can swim for fun or just swim laps using whatever form is most comfortable for you, or even mix it up and swim freestyle, backstroke, or butterfly at different times.
Music offers instant stress relief and can boost your mood, so naturally moving to music has wonderful stress benefits. Dancing uses your whole body and increases your heart rate to get those endorphins flowing. Learning new steps and movements keeps your brain engaged and focused and off the worries and stressors in your life. Depending on what type of dancing you do, dance can foster a sense of community and build connections with others, which decreases stress levels and boosts your mood.
Enroll in a social dance class such as ballroom, swing, or square dancing at a local dance studio or recreation center. Or you can explore other dance styles through classes in ballet, modern, jazz, or tap dance. If classes are not your thing, put on your favorite upbeat music at home, and dance around your living room. Your mood will be instantly lifted!