Americans are over-stressed and overweight. Are the two related? They very well could be. Managing stress through exercise might be one of the most important things you can do to handle stress and improve health.
Stress relievers come in many shapes and sizes, and exercise is one of the most versatile and personal approaches. There are many exercises with which to effectively reduce stress.
Much like the exercises you can use to reduce stress, stress itself comes from a variety of sources. An NPR/Harvard School of Public Health issued a survey last year, and 49% of the people who took it report experiencing a major stressful event in the past year. The causes of stress include serious factors like health, finances, the news, work problems, family issues, to mundane things like daily errands, among many other possibilities.
It doesn’t seem to matter what people are doing; the bottom line is, they are getting stressed out while doing them. And if you think all this stress is affecting your health—you’re right.
How Exercise Can Help Reduce Stress
There are a number of ways exercise can help you reduce stress. There are physiological changes that happen in your body during and after exercise that battle stress, while there are also mental benefits that occur before, during, and after. This is why finding a mode of exercise that you enjoy is paramount –if it’s something you want to do and look forward to, you’ll feel good about doing it and the benefits become that much greater.
The physiological benefits of exercise to reduce stress are related to the release of endorphins that takes place during a workout. Endorphins are chemicals that are released by the brain that can provide a feeling of euphoria. If you’ve ever heard of “runner’s high,” this is what it refers to. It’s a feeling of positivity, improved mood, and joy that comes along with exercise. Although it’s experienced at varying levels by different people, studies have shown its effectiveness in managing stress, depression, and anxiety.
Exercise can also help lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol; all of which can help reduce the risk of a heart attack that is known to be brought on by stress.
Aside from the physiological benefits that can reduce stress, exercise also provides an opportunity to do something you enjoy. When you have something to look forward to and participate in every day, it does two things. First, it provides a time every day when you’re free of thinking about stressors. You can enjoy the moment and allow your mind to focus on something that makes you feel good. You can even use that time to let your mind wander.
Going for a walk and thinking about what you enjoy is a good way to forget about your stressors, even if it’s only for a half-hour. The second benefit is that it gives you something to look forward to. It can act as a light at the end of a tunnel, so to speak, to help you endure through a tough day. This is beneficial because you know you’ll be rewarded with your exercise session after your hard day is over.
Exercises That Can Help You Reduce Stress and Anxiety
One of the most important things about picking exercise as a way to reduce stress is finding something you like that you’re going to stick with. Whether it’s going for a walk every day, participating in a cycling group, weight training, self-defense classes, boxing, or jogging, you should experience the benefits. There is no specific workout plan to reduce stress, and any mode of exercise will help manage it. It all depends on what you’re comfortable and willing to put your body through. Just don’t overdo it; as that will lead to problems that could have easily been avoided. Remember that your end goal is to reduce stress. Don’t add more by pushing your body too far.
Moreover, one thing that is extremely important to remember is that you’re not too old. In fact, you’re never too old to start an exercise program. Aging Americans are a large and powerful group, and many fitness centers and exercise groups recognize this. Senior-specific box-fit classes or cycling groups, for example, are likely available nearby in your community. Some modes of exercise to reduce stress worth considering are as follows:
- Self defense
- Weight Training
Research indicates that physically active people tend to experience lower rates of depression and anxiety, while people with anxiety and depression experience fewer symptoms when they include exercise as a part of treatment. Furthermore, a 10-minute walk might be just as beneficial for stress relief as a 45-minute workout. Once the body starts moving and the blood gets pumping, good things happen!
Some often-overlooked benefits of exercise on stress are that it leads to improved sleep, concentration and alertness, as well as fighting fatigue. When you’re tired, it’s much easier to become agitated and stressed out by daily inconveniences. Furthermore, you can experience mental lapses that lead to stressors. Cortisol levels (the stress hormone) are higher when you’re sleep-deprived. So anything that can help you get a little more sleep every night can definitely aid in lower stress levels. Exercise is a great way to improve sleep.
How to Stick to Your Exercise Routine to Get the Most Benefits
The most important factors in using exercise to manage stress are picking exercises that you like. That way, you can accordingly set attainable goals. If you’re going to do something in your free time, you have to like it. You may decide on a varied approach—boxing on Monday, cycling on Wednesday, and Aquafit on Friday—or you could stick to one activity. Whatever it is, make sure you enjoy it! Remember this is something you’re doing to de-stress, not create stress—the fun factor is paramount!
Exercise becomes even more satisfying and motivating when you set realistic, measurable goals. It’s hard to measure stress-reduction; you can feel it working, but you can’t look at anything in front of you that offers positive reinforcement. This is why other goals are important, too. Setting goals to track progress and showcase results, then, becomes a useful tool in maintaining and improving your program. Areas to set goals depend on your mode of exercise, but some common ones could be frequency (how often you exercise); time (how long it takes you to complete a bout of exercise); health factors (reduced blood pressure, body composition, lower cholesterol); and technique (finding more challenging modes).
Setting short- and long-term goals are important, and it’s recommended that you talk to someone with experience when you set them. If your goals are lofty and unrealistic from the outset, you might lose interest or becomes stressed. Therefore, set small goals that you can reach in a sustainable way for the short-term are better. Incremental improvements are best for long-term health.
Before beginning any exercise program, it’s recommended you talk to your family doctor. They can help you determine a safe frequency and intensity to begin—this is especially important if it’s been a while since you’ve been regularly active.
Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and improve your quality of life. Remember that stress management is key to a healthy and happy existence.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Exercise for stress and anxiety,” Anxiety and Depression Association of America web site, 2015; http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety, last accessed June 29, 2015.
NPR/Robert Wood Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health, “The Burden of Stress in America,” NPR web site, April 2014; http://media.npr.org/documents/2014/july/npr_rwfj_harvard_stress_poll.pdf, last accessed June 29, 2015.
Dariviri, C., et al., “Non pharmaceutical stress management and lifestyle change program for blood pressure control and psychological wellbeing in 553 patients in Attica, Greece,” National Institutes of Health web site, June 2015; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26102912, last accessed June 28, 2015.
Schwartz, L., “Changes in beta-endorphin levels in response to aerobic and anaerobic exercise,” National Institutes of Health web site, January 1992; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1553453, last accessed June 29, 2015.