Exercises that relieve stress

Exercise as Stress Relief

When you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, you need to manage a number of new stressors on an ongoing basis. Dealing with more frequent doctor visits, getting used to new medical treatments, and adjusting to lifestyle changes are just some of the factors that may cause you to experience stress and anxiety.

Fortunately, you can take some simple steps to help relieve stress. Many of those steps can help improve your overall health as well, including the health of your heart. Exercise is one of the best strategies for combating stress and managing heart disease.

Physical activity can help lower your overall stress levels and improve your quality of life, both mentally and physically. Exercising regularly can have a positive effect on your mood by relieving the tension, anxiety, anger, and mild depression that often go hand-in-hand with stress. It can improve the quality of your sleep, which can be negatively impacted by stress, depression, and anxiety. It can also help boost your confidence levels.

How Does Exercise Help With Stress?

Physical activity improves your body’s ability to use oxygen and also improves blood flow. Both of these changes have a direct effect on your brain. Exercise also increases your brain’s production of endorphins. Endorphins are the “feel-good” neurotransmitters that are responsible for the coveted “runner’s high.” This is the sense of well-being and euphoria that many people experience after exercise.

Physical activity can also help take your mind off your worries. The repetitive motions involved in exercise promote a focus on your body, rather than your mind. By concentrating on the rhythm of your movements, you experience many of the same benefits of meditation while working out. Focusing on a single physical task can produce a sense of energy and optimism. This focus can help provide calmness and clarity.

Some people notice an improvement in their mood immediately after a workout. Those feelings don’t end there, but generally become cumulative over time. Chances are, you will notice increased feelings of well-being as you stay committed to a consistent exercise routine.

In addition to having a direct effect on your stress levels, regular exercise also promotes optimum health in other ways. Improvements to your overall health may help indirectly moderate your stress levels. By improving your physical wellness and heart health, you’ll have less to feel stressed about.

Among some of its additional benefits, exercise can help:

  • strengthen your muscles and bones
  • strengthen your immunity, which can decrease your risk of illness and infection
  • lower your blood pressure, sometimes as much as some antihypertensive medications
  • boost levels of good cholesterol in your blood
  • improve your blood circulation
  • improve your ability to control weight
  • help you sleep better at night
  • boost your energy
  • improve your self-image

How Much Exercise Do You Need?

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week. They suggest breaking it down by tackling 30-minute workout sessions at least five days a week. If you’re short on time, and can’t fit in a full 30-minute session, three 10-minute workouts have been shown to work almost as well as 30 minutes at once.

The AHA also encourages you to incorporate at least two sessions of muscle-strengthening activities into your weekly routine. You should give all your major muscle groups a good workout, including your arms, shoulders, chest, back, abdomen, legs, abdominals and other core muscles.

Be sure to build up your physical activity level gradually if you’re new to an exercise program. For example, your doctor might suggest you start with 20 minutes of aerobic exercise, three days a week, and increase gradually from there.

What Types of Exercise Help With Stress?

There are many ways to meet your weekly exercise targets. What type of physical activity should you choose?

You don’t need to be a marathon runner or elite athlete to experience stress relief from exercise. Almost any kind of exercise can be helpful.

For example, consider trying moderate aerobic exercises such as:

  • biking
  • brisk walking or jogging
  • swimming or doing water aerobics
  • playing tennis or racquetball
  • dancing
  • rowing

When it comes to muscle-strengthening exercises, consider trying weight lifting or activities with resistance bands.

Even something as simple as gardening or choosing to take the stairs rather than the elevator can give you an emotional lift.

Any type of exercise can increase your fitness and decrease your stress. However, it’s important to choose an activity that you enjoy rather than dread. If you don’t like the water, don’t choose swimming as your activity. If the thought of running makes you anxious, training for a 5K race won’t help relieve your stress. Try a variety of activities until you find some you enjoy. When you’re having fun, you’ll be more likely to stick with your workout routine.

Working out with someone else can also add to the stress-busting benefits of workout. Sharing it with family members of friends can make exercise feel more like fun and less like work.

Check with Your Doctor

If you’re out of shape or new to exercising, ask your doctor for guidance on what forms of exercise are right for you. They can help you develop a safe and effective workout routine while taking your specific condition and fitness level into account. Discuss appropriate intensity levels with your doctor.

You can enjoy the stress-relieving benefits of exercise even if you’re out of shape or not athletic. Regular exercise can help you feel less stressed, anxious, and depressed, and more relaxed, optimistic, and happy. It can also improve your overall health, including the health of your heart.

  • Improved blood circulation and delivery of oxygen to the muscles
  • Stronger muscles and bones
  • Decreased stress hormones such as cortisol
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better weight control
  • Better sleep at night
  • More energy
  • Improved self-image

“The psychological benefits of regular physical activity are also plentiful. It improves blood circulation and delivery of oxygen to the brain. This helps increase production of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that elevate mood and control pain. This can give a sense of wellbeing and even euphoria after exercise.” Dr Gamberg says.


“Your strength and stamina increase and this improves self-image. You’ll earn a sense of mastery and control over your body which improves self-confidence.”

At a more basic level, being physically active is also just a good distraction. Focusing on the movement of your body and the physical task at hand can give you a sense of calmness, clarity, and optimism. This can be similar to meditation or mindfulness-based practices which are often recommended for those experiencing anxiety and depression.

What do work deadlines, sitting in traffic, paying your bills, grocery lines, raising your kids, and battling the bulge have in common? While there may be many suitable answers, one of the top common denominators is: stress! In the United States alone, seven out of ten adults report feeling some type of stress daily. Although people have different stressors, it is something that once it starts to affect us, is often hard to stop. What sets someone off may vary from individual to individual. Some people feel stress over the smallest things, while others have a much higher tolerance for stress. Regardless, stress can take a physical and mental toll on your overall health if it is not handled correctly.

The key to stress management is finding ways to relieve stress so that you can cope with any situation that unfolds. Luckily, there are many proven strategies to help us handle and decrease stress, it just might take a bit of trial and error to figure out what works best for you. For us, exercise has always been one of the many tools we use to help get a handle on the stress.

Let’s face it, stress not only affects your brain, but with so many connections to your nerves, it can be felt throughout your entire body. For many, stress can manifest in sadness, anger, exhaustion, mood swings, insomnia, poor eating, panic attacks, and many other ways. The key to helping to reduce or manage stress is linked with learning coping skills and raising the endorphins in your brain to counteract these feelings. While exercise has been found to be a great outlet for stress, others turn to meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, conventional therapy and music as other ways to manage stress.

Studies show that exercise can play a very significant role in helping stress reduction and management. As you engage in physical activity, your body reacts by releasing endorphins. These endorphins are actually hormones that work to fight stress. As the endorphins are increased, your brain can start to feel more clear, energized, and alert. These effects all play a role in allowing you to manage stress and find new ways to prioritize and cope with emotions.

Do you use exercise to help manage stress? If so, what type works best for you? Although any form of exercise that allows you to escape the stress and relax will work, there are several forms that have been found to be especially helpful. Perhaps one of these is right for you.

Strength Training – Strength training can have a profound impact on stress levels and mood. Just like other forms of exercise, strength training provides feel-good hormones, but lifting is one of our favorites because of the satisfaction you can get from really pushing yourself, and subsequently, feeling and seeing yourself get stronger. Try one of these free workouts: Squats and Deadlifts Workout – At Home Lower Body Workout or Upper Body Workout for Great Arms, Back, Chest, and Shoulders.

Aerobic Exercise – Participating in aerobic activities such as running, spinning, cardio, or dance also offer the benefit of an increased heart rate. When your heart rate goes up, your body will release an increased amount of endorphins, which allow you to “feel good” – both physically and mentally. HIIT workouts, in particular, may be a good way to keep the workout quick and maximally effective for healthy weight management and time efficiency. Try this abs & HIIT cardio workout.

Yoga – This type of exercise is considered a mind-body exercise, which in itself can strengthen your body’s internal response to stress. Yoga often involves various poses with deep breathing, which allows you to learn to relax while strengthening your body and improving your posture. Check out Fitness Blender’s 3 Day Flexibility Challenge.

Martial Arts – For many people, martial arts is the perfect way to get in shape, release energy, and reduce tension. Learning the techniques is helpful in keeping your mind occupied and away from stressors. The many forms of martial arts allow you to learn self-discipline while keeping you in shape.

Kickboxing – For many people under stress, there is a strong feeling of tension and anger. Taking up kickboxing is a great way to reduce your stress through a series of punching and kicking movements. Improving your balance, burning calories, and becoming more flexible are among the many benefits of this form of exercise. Check out Cardio Kickboxing and Bodyweight Cardio or Cardio Kickboxing & Abs – Kickboxing for Stress & Cardio Benefits.

Pilates – Despite the fact that Pilates is considered an anaerobic exercise, it is also a stress-relieving exercise to consider learning. Pilates focuses on mat exercises with a series of controlled movements. This workout format was created to improve strength, endurance, and flexibility. Here’s a free Pilates workout: Lower Body Pilates Workout – Butt and Thigh Workout you may want to try.

Quick side note: meditation is probably not something that comes to mind when you think stress relieving “exercise” – but I just wanted to leave a note to encourage you to try and start a meditation habit, if you don’t have one already. It takes some practice and may feel awkward at first, but it can help with stress, chronic pain, depression, etc. (of course, it does not replace a visit to your personal healthcare provider).

So, the next time you feel a stressful situation coming on, perhaps it is best to put on your sneakers and earn a Workout Complete with one of our 500+ free workout videos!

Do you have a favorite type of training for days where you are feeling particularly stressed? We’d love to hear what works for you!

Physical activity reduces stress

“A brisk bout of spring cleaning may make you happier,” suggests The Times today. Several newspapers cover new research that claims just 20 minutes a week of any physical activity, such as cleaning or gardening, can have an impact on psychological distress. The Daily Mail reports that the more exercise, the better. It says that people who exercise every day reduce their risk of anxiety and stress levels by more than 40%. BBC News says that light dusting or walking to the bus stop didn’t count, as activities had to last at least 20 minutes at a time and induce breathlessness.

The stories are based on a survey of 20,000 men and women in the UK that found that the more strenuous and frequent the activity, the greater the effect on mental health. There is the possibility that this study is actually showing that those who suffer from stress or anxiety are less likely to take part in physical activity, instead of the other way around. However, the results correspond with similar findings from other studies that show regular physical activity improves mental health.

The authors say that this study is the first to “consider the importance of different activity types in relation to mental health”. The pattern of a reduction in the risk of psychological distress with higher volumes and intensity of physical activity coincides with the findings of other studies and is probably reliable. However, more studies are needed to confirm that just 20 minutes of housework a week is beneficial. In general, people should know that the more exercise they do, the better they will feel, for a variety of reasons.

Where did the story come from?

Dr Mark Hamer and colleagues from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London carried out the research. The study was funded by grants from the British Heart Foundation and the National Institute for Health Research. It was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine , a peer-reviewed medical journal.

What kind of scientific study was this?

This was a cross sectional study based on data from the Scottish Health Survey. This periodic survey occurs every three to five years in households in Scotland, and is aimed at gathering a sample representative of the general population. Different samples of people were used from surveys taken in 1995, 1998 and 2003. A total of 19,842 men and women with an average age of about 45 years were included in the final analysis.

The survey is carried out over two household visits. During the first visit, the participants give their levels of physical activity, and their weight and height are measured. At the second, nurses enquire about their general health and physical activity. They then carry out the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12), which measures psychological distress. This scores responses to 12 questions about participants’ general level of happiness, experience of depressive and anxiety symptoms, and sleep disturbance over the last four weeks.

The researchers used statistical methods to model the links between all the measurements, scores and questionnaire responses that they had collected. They related these to the overall risk of psychological distress (given as a GHQ-12 score of four or more).

So that the results were not unduly influenced by other factors, the researchers adjusted for those they knew could or might affect physical activity and psychological distress. These included age, sex, social economic and marital status, body mass index, long-standing illness, smoking and the year in which the survey took place.

What were the results of the study?

The researchers found that 3,200 participants had psychological distress as defined by the GHQ-12. About 32% of the sample performed none or one session of physical activity per week lasting at least 20 minutes, excluding domestic activities. Participants in the higher activity quartiles were more likely to be younger, unmarried, come from a higher socioeconomic group, non smokers, have lower body mass index and lower GHQ-12 scores. They were also less likely to have a long-standing illness.

After adjusting for a number of factors the researchers found that any form of daily physical activity was linked to a lower risk of psychological distress. The more physical activity people engaged in, the less likely they were to indicate psychological distress on their questionnaires. They also showed that the different activities, including domestic tasks (such as housework and gardening), walking and sports, all showed a reduced chance of psychological distress. The strongest effects were observed for those who played sports.

What interpretations did the researchers draw from these results?

The researchers conclude that mental health benefits were observed at a “minimal level of at least 20 minutes a week of any physical activity”. They say that there was a greater risk reduction for activity that was undertaken for longer or at a higher intensity.

What does the NHS Knowledge Service make of this study?

These findings are largely consistent with other studies in the area that have shown the many benefits of physical activity. The authors mention some particular features of this study that limit any interpretations that can be made from the results:

  • Given the cross-sectional nature of the data, there is a chance that the results are explained by reverse causality. This means the study might actually be showing that people who suffer from stress or anxiety are less likely to take part in physical activity.
  • The researchers attempted to take into account factors, such as illnesses, that might have reduced the participants’ physical activity. They also considered illnesses that might be linked to psychological distress. However, these adjustments may not have fully removed their effects on the results. It is also possible that unmeasured or unknown factors, such as illnesses not considered by the study or medications, may have influenced the results.
  • The exact nature of the housework that proved beneficial was not identified.

Despite these limitations, many other studies have also shown the health benefits of physical activity. Some that have suggested that it may reduce the likelihood of depression and cognitive decline. Whether this activity should be in the house, garden or the gym has not been answered by this study.

Analysis by Bazian
Edited by NHS Website

Links to the headlines

Housework puts a spring in your step.

The Times, 10 April 2008

How just 20 minutes of housework a week will boost the brain.

Daily Express, 10 April 2008

Stressed? Try doing the dishes more often.

The Daily Telegraph, 10 April 2008

Cleaning ‘improves mental health’.

BBC News, 10 April 2008

Housework ‘boosts moods’.

Channel 4 News, 10 April 2008

Links to the science

Hamer M, Stamatakis E, Steptoe A.

Dose-response relationship between physical activity and mental health: the Scottish Health Survey.

Br J Sports Med 2008; Apr 10

Stress is becoming a nearly unavoidable part of life. We stress about work, school, family gatherings and new or old relationships. Thankfully, summer is here and with it comes a plethora of activities that we can do to enjoy the new warmer weather. Outdoor summer activities are also a great way to reduce stress and improve your overall well-being. Here are a few ideas for fun, stress-reducing outdoor activities to get you started.

Related: Why Exercise Makes Us Happy

1. Yoga

Yoga has long been proven to have boundless benefits. The complementary exercise that combines mental and physical discipline has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. It’s a great choice for individuals of any athletic ability because there are so many different styles for everyone from beginners to yogis.

Outdoor yoga becomes more popular as the weather warms and you can comfortably take your yoga mat outside. This adds to the benefits that yoga already offers, because being outdoors naturally reduces your stress levels as well. A study conducted in Scotland found that individuals who lived in natural areas and spent time outdoors had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who lived in a city or other urban environment.

If you’re not comfortable with your yoga skills, look into some outdoor classes in your area. In some cities, large groups of yogis will get together to practice their skills in parks and other open areas, so you could look into that as an option.

2. Hiking

Depending on where you live, hiking might be a great option to help get out outdoors and reduce your stress levels.

Even if you don’t have hiking trails in your area, just taking a walk through a local park can help lower your stress levels. A study in the U.K. found that walking through parks or other natural locations has the same effect on your brain as a form of meditation, which has also been shown to reduce stress and improve mental health.

This doesn’t have to be an all-day trek; start by just going for a brisk walk in the park. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel.

3. Biking

Biking is a great low-impact exercise that gets you outside. It can also be a great way to improve your physical health while getting some cardio in, too. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has found that exercise, especially cardio exercise, can help reduce stress. And one poll found that around 14 percent of individuals use exercise specifically to deal with stress.

Related: How Successful People Beat Stress

Biking can also be a fantastic way to explore your city from a new perspective. Just bring a bike lock with you so you can protect your wheels while you explore a new restaurant or store that you might have overlooked if you did all your exploring by car.

4. Play

Play isn’t just for kids anymore. It’s a surprisingly effective way to stay healthy while reducing your overall stress levels. We’ve already discussed how being outdoors can reduce stress and boost your overall mental health, but it’s also the type of play that most people prefer—in nearly every study, participants responded that they preferred playing outside to indoor play.

This is why some companies are starting to design their playgrounds to cater to people of all ages. Check to see what sort of facilities are available in your area—not all playgrounds are designed to handle the weight of an adult, but there should be a few places where you can let go and just play.

5. Dog Walking

Spending time with a dog can be a great way to both reduce your stress and improve your overall health. Studies have found that pet owners enjoy reduced stress, higher levels of oxytocin (the feel-good chemical) and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Even if you don’t have your own dog, there are most likely shelters in your area that are looking for volunteer dog walkers to help their animals exercise and socialize while they’re waiting for their forever homes. Who knows, you might even find your new four-legged best friend while you’re volunteering as a dog walker.

6. Water Sports

There’s nothing quite as relaxing as getting out on the water. Whether you’re surfing, paddle boarding, or just relaxing on the shore, water sports are a great way to reduce stress. First, these sports have the same effect as any other exercise—lower cortisol levels and reduced stress. Additionally, a study found that living by the sea or just living near blue spaces helps reduce stress. The study, completed by the University of Exeter, found that the calming atmosphere created by the ocean trends to reduce stress by giving people a more positive outlook.

No matter what is causing stress in your life, take some time to enjoy one of these summer activities to send daily worries to the back burner and improve your overall outlook. You might be surprised how much better you feel.

Related: 4 Ways to Spend More Time Outside

Kacey Bradley is a lifestyle blogger for The Drifter Collective, an eclectic lifestyle blog that expresses various forms of style through the influence of culture and the world around us. Kacey graduated with a degree in communications while working for a lifestyle magazine. She has been able to fully embrace herself with the knowledge of nature and the power of exploring other locations and cultures, all while portraying her love for the world around her through her visually pleasing, culturally embracing and inspiring posts. Keep up with Kacey on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

Feeling anxious? Everyone responds to stress in different ways, but we all have one thing in common: Regular exercise reduces the harmful effects of stress.

Road rage, sleeping too much or too little, bingeing on TV or comfort foods, drinking more alcohol than usual, procrastinating, or chewing your fingernails down to the nub. Any of these sound familiar?

Stress affects each of us in different ways. You may have physical signs (such as headaches, tense or sore muscles, or trouble sleeping), emotional signs (such as feeling anxious or depressed), or both. Healthy habits, including regular physical activity such as walking, can help reduce or prevent some of the harmful effects of stress.

Stress sets off a chain of events. The body reacts to it by releasing a hormone, adrenaline, that temporarily causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise. These physical reactions prepare you to deal with the situation by confronting it or by running away from it — the “fight or flight” response. When stress is constant (chronic), your body remains in high gear off and on for days or weeks at a time.

Chronic stress can take a physical toll on you. It can weaken your immune system and cause uncomfortable physical symptoms like headache and stomach problems.

Does chronic stress cause high blood pressure or heart disease?

The link between stress and cardiovascular disease is not clear, but it can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices that are associated with high blood pressure and heart disease. While the exact causes of high blood pressure are unknown, contributing factors include being overweight, eating too much sodium (salt), lack of physical activity and drinking too much alcohol.

How can being more active help?

Regular physical activity can improve quality of lifeand relieve stress, tension, anxiety and depression. You may notice a “feel good” sensation immediately following your workout and also see an improvement in overall well-being over time as physical activity becomes a regular part of your life.

Physical activity can:

  • release stress and calm you
  • improve your mood and help you think clearly
  • keep your mind off cigarettes if you’re trying to quit
  • help control your appetite
  • help you lose weight if you’re overweight, or stay at a healthy weight
  • give you more energy and stamina
  • lower your blood pressure
  • increase your “good” HDL cholesterol level
  • reduce your risk of developing heart disease and stroke
  • help control blood sugar by improving how your body uses insulin
  • improve your quality of sleep
  • help you feel better about how you look

Here’s How Often You Should Exercise To Reduce Stress, According To A New Study

It’s no secret that maintaining a workout routine of some kind can make you feel better in your mind, body, and spirit. And trust, as a busy person myself, I’ve definitely fallen into the mindset of assuming that, unless I’m getting up for a rigorous jog at 6 a.m. every single day, exercise is probably not going to have a huge impact on how I feel — but the thing is, that’s not true in the slightest. In fact, figuring out how often you should exercise to reduce stress might not be as tall of an order as you think. According to the results of a new study, working out just a few times a week could be effective enough to relieve your stress.

In the study, which will soon be published in the scientific journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of California showed, over the course of six months, that exercising at least three times a week significantly reduced stress for a volunteer group of people who identified as their family’s caregivers, ScienceDaily reports. Even cooler? The results of the study appeared to suggest that this type of workout routine might also “slow cellular aging” — in other words, it may protect the body from developing serious health issues later in life, such as cardiovascular disease.

So here’s how the study was done: According to ScienceDaily, the researchers recruited 68 volunteers, and again, all of them identified as caregivers for family members with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The participants also identified themselves as generally “physically inactive,” and they “reported feeling high levels of stress,” as per ScienceDaily.

According to the research, the 68 volunteers were randomly divided into two groups at the beginning of the study. One group was told to exercise three to five times a week, at 40 minutes per workout, while the other group was told not to change anything about their regular level of physical activity.

After six months of sticking to these different routines, the researchers found that, of the 81 percent of exercising participants who stayed committed to the regimen, not only did they see physical health benefits, such as improved cardiorespiratory health, they also reported feeling significantly less stressed.

So, if you’re really feeling stressed out yourself lately, know that you don’t have to hit the gym every single day to find relief. In fact, according to personal trainer and cycling instructor, Kyra Williams, it’s best to start small with a regular workout routine so you don’t get overwhelmed. “Stress is going to impact your life whether you like it or not,” she tells Elite Daily over email. “And you may even be doing yourself more harm than goodwith a strict workout schedule. Adding in time in nature, leisure walking, yin yoga, and lifting without cardio, can help, too.”

If you’re specifically looking for exercises that will reduce stress, Williams suggests you start by doing one or two outdoor walks each week for 30 to 60 minutes at a time, and maybe adding in some light weightlifting and stretching over time if it feels comfortable for you.

Yoga With Adriene on YouTube

Another workout for stress relief? Yoga, my friend. Yoga teacherHope Wills tells Elite Daily over email that she “absolutely believes and knows that slow, mindful yoga” is perfect for reducing stress. “I tell all the students in my classes that, when we change our breath, we change our brain,” she says. “The slowing of breath and body send a message to the brain to take a break as well.”

Through long, deep inhales and exhales that are paired with the body’s movements, Wills explains, you can increase “awareness of self” and relax your body both mentally and physically.

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