Stress is an unavoidable fact of life for most people—with jobs, children, financial issues, or even the commute to work sometimes able to bring everything to a fever pitch of anxiety and frustration.
While removing toxic people and situations from one’s life is obviously the best way to eliminate stressors, this isn’t always an option, and that’s where exercise can help. Establishing a regular workout routine is one of the most effective medication-free ways to reduce tension, while building up the body and mind to handle future upsets.
When we exercise, we lower levels of stress hormones known for causing weight gain and nervousness, and we increase the positive mood-enhancing brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin. The endorphins released by regular exercise serve as a natural anti-anxiety elixir that can calm and relax us in times of distress.
Below are 5 of the best ways to use exercise to soothe the soul:
1. Aerobically Unwind
One of the best ways to work off nervous energy and clear the mind is with aerobic exercises such as running, biking, elliptical training, speed walking, or any form of physical activity that requires endurance and repetition. Something about repeated movements is comforting to us, like the constant beat of a heart. The brain also releases mood-lifting endorphins during prolonged exercise, and lowers stress hormones, creating a naturally sedating effect. If you’re new to aerobic exercise, start slow with walking and move up to jogging, or try out all the aerobic machines at your gym until you find your favorite.
2. Mellow Out
If your emotional stress seems primarily anxiety-based, a mild and quiet exercise practice like yoga or Pilates might be the perfect way to stretch out tight muscles and get yourself back in balance. Pilates focuses on core muscles, balance, and a slow building of overall stability, while yoga is known for increasing flexibility with an emphasis on inner peace and breathing exercises.
If you think this type of gentle and strengthening workout might be a good way to de-stress your mind and body, try taking classes for both types of exercise to see if you like one style better—or maybe you’ll love them both.
3. Fight Your Demons
If you feel like anger is a constant issue or recurring reaction to stress in your daily life, you might consider one of the many types of martial arts training programs to work out your aggression in a controlled environment. Many people find it empowering to learn self-defense techniques, especially if their anger is coming from a place of helplessness, and kicking a hanging bag, punching a speed bag, or learning the sport of boxing can be a great way to release pent-up resentment.
If this sounds like it might be beneficial for your particular situation, find a martial arts dojo or a gym that features boxing training, and ask for a free class to try it out. Most reputable businesses will give you a trial lesson before you sign up.
4. Lift the Stress Away
Strength training and other forms of resistance exercise like weightlifting can really help purge the stress from the body, muscle by straining muscle. This type of exercise can be especially helpful for those with anxiety disorders or ADHD because it efficiently burns off nervous energy while creating mood-lifting neurochemicals. Working out the body with weight machines, free weights, or exercise bands can take tension from a bad day at work away with each push or pull, leaving exhaustion-induced relief in its place.
Also, much like aerobic exercise, the structure of a weightlifting routine can have a pacifying effect as you count repetitions and fall into a comfortingly familiar workout rhythm.
If you think strength training might help you relax, consider joining a gym, and be sure to have an employee or personal trainer walk you through proper form before you use the equipment.
5. Mentally Exercise
The positive physical and psychological effects of meditation have been proven in multiple studies, and many people swear by this stress-reducing technique. Meditation has a reputation for being a mystical, spiritual practice requiring years of training, but in reality, anyone willing to create an atmosphere conducive to relaxation can meditate.
If you’d like to see if meditation makes you feel mellow, find a time during which you will be alone without interruptions, lie down in a dark, quiet place, and try to let your mind go blank for as long as possible. Some find that visualizing a color or repeating a word helps block out other thoughts.
It may take a while, but many meditation enthusiasts dedicate 30-60 minutes a day to this mindful endeavor, with excellent results.
In addition to slowing the aging process and making people healthier, exercise can give us the physical release and necessary brain chemicals to cope with the hectic demands of life. If you’re feeling anxious, frustrated, or angry, consider trying one of the exercises listed above to stop worrying and start working the stress out of your system.
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Rachel Young is a professional blogger who shares tips and advice on health, training and nutrition. She blogs on behalf of Fitness 19, a leading fitness facility with affordable month to month memberships.