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Exercise and Stress Relief

Exercise can help


Updated March 29, 2013

How much stress do you feel on a regular basis? According to some statistics, 77% of us feel the physical effects of stress on a regular basis in the form of headaches, insomnia, anxiety, muscle aches and pains, crankiness and that annoying, fuzzy-headed feeling that makes it hard to think straight, much less make important life decisions.

We can't always get away from stressful situations, but there is one simple thing you can do to burn off that tension and blow some stink off: Move your body.

Blow Some Stink off With Exercise

When we're stressed, what's the first thing we do? If you're a normal human being, it probably involves something like having a drink, indulging in some chocolate, flipping off someone in traffic, yelling at somebody, grinding your teeth or all of the above. Some of that may help, but the best thing you can do is probably the last thing on your mind: Stop, take a deep breath and think about what you really need in that moment.

It's not about what you need, it's always about doing something that feels good. A reward is something we all respond to and a healthy reward will not only give you a good feeling, it will actually bring those stress hormones under control so your body feels better.

There are different kinds of exercise that can help, depending on how you're feeling and what you can handle.

1. Simple Unstructured Activities

  • Working ing the yard
  • Taking a slow bike ride
  • Taking a walk with a friend
  • Washing the car
  • Any mindless, rhythmic activity - walking, raking leaves, cleaning out a drawer, etc.

Often, as your body gets into it's own rhythms, you can let your mind go and work out problems, find solutions or just daydream for awhile.

2. Blow It Out the Old Bloomer Leg with Structured Exercise

Good old cardio or strength training workouts are perfect for getting your stress under control. Your heart rate is probably already elevated from stress and a good workout will help use that to get rid of any extra tension and help you feel more relaxed. Some ideas:

  • Interval Training - Going hard and then going easy is a great way to work hard without having to sustain a high level of intensity for an entire workout. Interval Workouts
  • Circuit Training - These workouts move fast, keeping your mind engaged while your troubles fall into the background. Circuit Training Workouts
  • Cardio Exercise - There's nothing better than a good old cardio workout for getting you moving, burning calories and letting you escape life for a little while.
  • Strength Training - Sometimes you want to feel strong in your life and, if you can't feel that in your current circumstances, the next best thing is feeling it in your body. Pick up some weights and show the world just how strong you are. Strength Training Workouts

Mind/Body Activities

Getting some strength training and cardio into your day can help perk you up, butt here are other ways to soothe yourself and give your mind time to relax and slow down a bit.

  • Yoga. This is a great way to quiet your mind and relax your body. There are different ways to practice yoga--some vigorous and others relaxing. Try this Gentle Stretch workout for maximum relaxation.
  • Pilates. While more vigorous than some types of Yoga, Pilates forces you to concentrate on what your body is doing while helping you work on core strength, stability and flexibility. This Yoga/Pilates Workout combines moves from both disciplines.
  • Meditation. Finding the time and patience to relax can be tough. But meditation doesn't have to be complicated--simply stopping to breathe for a few minutes can be your own meditation. Or try Guided Meditation if you're like me and need some direction.
  • Laugh. Experts have long known the benefits of laughing--it helps your body in a multitude of ways but, mostly, it just feels good. Spend some time with our Humor Guide, which should get you going.
  • Massage. Schedule a massage in the near future so you have something to look forward to. If that isn't an option, indulge at home with a hot bath or lounging around and reading your favorite book or magazine.

Tips for Better Workouts When You're Stressed:

  • Take baby steps. Thinking about 30 minutes of an activity may feel overwhelming if you're crazy busy. Decide you'll just do a few minutes of something. Chances are, it'll feel so good, you'll keep going.
  • Keep it simple. Sometimes the thought of changing into workout clothes can seem like climbing a mountain. Choose activities that require very little preparation like walking, gardening, cleaning the house or some gentle stretching.
  • Ask for support. It helps to have a workout buddy to keep you honest. Try to get a friend or family member to meet you once a week for a walk in the park or a local fitness class. Knowing someone's waiting for you makes it easier to get going.
  • Make the transition easier. If you tend to stay more sedentary when you're stressed, going from sitting to something active can seem like a big jump. Give yourself 5 or 10 minutes to get your body moving a bit before exercise. Do a little cleaning or take out the trash. Take some time to stretch or simply walk around the house a bit.
  • Give yourself extra time to warm up. If you're doing a high intensity activity (like running or aerobics), give yourself more warm up time than usual. If you usually start out jogging, start with a slow walk. Allow your body all the time it needs to get warm and allow your heart rate to climb gently.
  • Give yourself extra time to cool down. It's always a good idea to end your workout feeling good. Give yourself a good ten minutes to wind down and then spend a few minutes stretching.

Do what you can to reduce your stress with a healthy dose of exercise. Enjoy the effects of that workout, hydrate, refuel and take care of yourself. Okay, then you can have some wine...

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