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Workouts for Stress Relief

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Updated November 05, 2008

How do you deal with stress? If you’re like most people, you probably have a mixed bag of tools. Some are healthy, like taking a day off or getting a massage, and some are not so healthy, like eating sweets or drinking too much. It’s a good idea to have a variety of ways to reduce tension so you always have something to reach for (besides those chips or glass of wine) that offers relief. Exercise is one of the best ways to ease stress and anxiety while giving you a sense of confidence and mastery when other parts of your life feel out of control. These workouts offer you new ideas for reducing stress.

1. Interval Training

Inti St. Clair/Getty Images
Higher intensity cardio is great for stress reduction because your body releases endorphins, feel-good hormones that boost your energy and mood. Interval training helps relieve stress by allowing you to work at higher intensities for shorter periods of time, making the workout effective and efficient.

Try it:

  1. Choose any activity you like (running, walking, etc.)
  2. Warm up for 5-10 minutes
  3. Increase intensity (adding hills, incline, resistance and/or speed) so that you're working at Level 7-8 on this perceived exertion scale for 30-60 seconds.
  4. Reduce intensity and recover for 2 or more minutes
  5. Repeat intervals for 20 or more minutes

More Interval Workouts

2. Circuit Training

Paige Waehner
What’s the one thing that causes the most stress in your life? Okay, maybe your mother-in-law is on your list, but being too busy is probably at the top.

Circuit training can help you save time in your workouts. By combining exercises and moving quickly, you get fit and get more done in less time. As a bonus, the variety of exercises keeps your mind and body engaged, making your workouts more fun.

Try it:

  1. Choose 8-10 exercises, mixing compound moves, like squats and pushups with cardio moves, like jogging in place or power jacks
  2. Perform each exercise, one after the other, for 30-60 seconds
  3. Repeat for 1-3 circuits
  4. End with a Cool down

Circuit Workouts

3. Strength Training

Paige Waehner
You may not think of lifting weights as a way to reduce stress, but it's another form of exercise that gives you an outlet for buildup of tension and stress. When you lift weights, you not only strengthen your body, you build confidence and self-worth. That mental and physical strength makes life easier and that alone eases stress.

Try it:

  1. Choose about 8-10 exercises (one per muscle group) from the examples below:
  2. Choose a weight you can lift 10-16 times for each exercise
  3. Do each exercise for 1-2 sets of 10-16 reps, focusing on your form
  4. Lift weights at least twice a week for best results

Find more workouts in my workout center and at Weight Training at About.com.

4. Kickboxing

Paige Waehner
If you allow stress to build up without letting off steam, you end up feeling irritated and angry enough to take it out on people who don't deserve it (even though the woman who cut you off on the freeway really did tick you off). Kickboxing is great for getting out your aggressions in a healthy way while feeling strong, powerful and in control. It also burns lots of calories and increases endurance.

Try it: Ideas for getting started with kickboxing:

5. Walking

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When you're stressed, one way to calm down is to simplify your life. You may not be able to quit your job or give your kids away, but what about your workouts? When you're overbooked, the last thing you need is a workout that requires packing a bag, driving to the gym and slogging through a routine you're not enjoying.

Walking is a great way to simplify your workouts while reducing stress. You can breathe fresh air, get away from your problems and move your body all at the same time.

Try it:

  1. Put on a comfortable pair of athletic shoes
  2. Go outside and begin walking briskly
  3. Relax your shoulders, let your arms move in a natural rhythm and breathe deeply
  4. Keep walking for as long as you can
  5. Don't forget to come back home

Walking Workouts

6. Relaxing Stretch

Paige Waehner
When you're at the office listening to your boss drone on endlessly, or come home to see the lovely picture your child fingerpainted on the wall, what do you do? Yes, strangling someone may come to mind, especially when even the idea of calming down seems out of reach. However, taking a time-out to stretch may be just what you need to relax your mind and body.

Try it:

Find a 5-minute block of time and try each stretch below, holding each one for 15-30 seconds and breathing deeply. Focus on what you're doing and enjoy how the exercises feel.

Flexibility Workouts

7. Gentle Yoga

Paige Waehner
While sweating it out is great for stress, slowing down with yoga is another option simply because it combines so many stress-reduction techniques in one activity. Yoga is relaxing, like stretching workouts, but it takes you further with a focus on breathing, mind-body connection, meditating and, of course, stretching tight muscles. All you need is a few minutes and a few basic exercises.

Try it:

Perform each move listed below 5-8 times (Get detailed instructions in Morning & Evening Yoga). Hold the last Corpse pose for several minutes.

  • Sun Salutations
  • Cat Stretch
  • Warrior I
  • Warrior II
  • Triangle Pose
  • Corpse Pose

    Yoga Workouts

  • 8. Pilates

    Plank
    Pilates is like yoga in that it focuses on breathing, connecting to your body and improving how you carry yourself, making it a great choice for stress relief. Pilates also strengthens the core and the pelvic floor, which makes you stronger for other activities in your busy day. Just a few minutes with some fundamental exercises offers a distraction from daily worries and a chance to focus on your body.

    Try it: Start with these basic Pilates moves from our Pilates Guide, Marguerite. Mastering these moves will strengthen your core and give you a strong foundation for more difficult exercises:

    Pilates Workouts

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