One of our favorite forms of stress relief is exercise. A good run, a solid yoga session, a tough but rewarding bootcamp class: all of these contribute to a happier, healthier and more stress-free you. The reason exercise is such a potent form of stress release is not necessarily because of the popular theory that it releases endorphins, but instead, it’s theorized that your body learns how to manage stress more efficiently if you exercise regularly.
When you exercise, your body undergoes both physical and mental stress: you’re breathing heavily and focusing on stamina, strength and balance. Your cardiovascular system, renal system and muscular system are working together to make it all happen. This symphony of activity may be at the core of why exercise is so beneficial for managing stress and warding off depression. It also speaks to the necessity of avoiding a sedentary lifestyle.
Here are the top two reasons we exercise for stress relief – we’ve also included our favorite stress-reducing workouts.
Exercise Distracts You From Stressful Situations
One of the best ways to alleviate stress symptoms is to find something that you become so involved in (see Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi’s ‘Flow’ for more on this) that you almost enter a meditative state. Exercises that trigger this response are typically ones that require a good degree of concentration. During a rock climbing session, for example, you’re focused on the route, your strategy for getting to the top of it, and, of course, not falling! The complexity of this activity distracts your brain from stress. Yoga, too, is another wonderful form of stress relief as it requires one to focus on posture, holding poses and following (if you’re attending a class) the instructor’s prompts.
Exercise Increases Your Sense of Achievement
Some people are motivated enough to exercise regularly without specific incentives. These people are rare unicorns! We find that it helps to have a goal in mind when exercising. For example, if you sign up for a race (like a color run or your first 10K), you’re probably more likely to create a regimen to help meet your goal. Or, perhaps, you’ve downloaded an app like Charity Miles, which allows you to donate to a charity of your choice upon completing a run. Having and achieving exercise-related goals adds more meaning to your fitness routine. This meaning often results in a sense of achievement which makes people feel happier, more fulfilled and, therefore, less stressed.
What’s your favorite stress-relieving workout?