Everyone experiences some amount of stress. It’s a normal part of life and isn’t inherently bad. That said, ongoing levels of high stress or chronic stress can have negative short and long-term effects on your health. To avoid these serious mental and physical impacts, it’s important to properly manage stress while avoiding chronic levels of high stress.
It’s always important to have healthy ways to manage stress, yet this is especially important during periods of high stress, which many people are currently experiencing. While there are a variety of ways to manage stress, research shows that exercise is one of the healthiest and most effective ways to do so.
The Impact that Stress Has on Your Body
Stress impacts both your body and mind. When you experience stress, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol hormones, which increase your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Often referred to as your “flight or fight response,” your body’s stress response essentially gets your body in high-gear. As you can imagine, keeping your body in high gear can take a toll in a number of ways.
Everyone experiences stress in different ways, including physical responses like headaches and tight muscles as well as emotional responses like anxiety and depression. The short-term symptoms of stress often include headaches, back pain, insomnia, stomach problems, anger, anxiety, and depression. Over time, stress can weaken your immune system and lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices.
How Exercise Reduces Stress
Exercise is a type of physical stress, and interestingly, that physical stress can help to relieve mental stress. According to experts from Mayo Clinic, exercise directly reduces stress levels because it:
- Boosts your body’s productions of endorphins. Often known as your body’s “feel-good” neurotransmitters, these hormones are responsible for the runner’s high or sense of well-being that you get after exercising. Endorphins work as painkillers and mood elevators as well as natural stress relievers.
- Reduces your body’s levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which are stress hormones.
- Serves as a type of meditation by giving you many of the benefits of meditation. When you’re exercising, you often forget the stressors in your life and focus all of your attention on your body’s movement. This is a type of moving meditation that improves your focus and reduces your stress.
- Causes you to breathe deeper, which triggers your body’s natural relaxation response.
- Leads to better sleep, which helps to reduce overall stress levels.
- Improves your mood and self-confidence, which in turn help to reduce stress levels.
Best Exercises for Stress Relief
The good news is that almost any type of exercise can lead to stress reduction. While all types of exercise are beneficial, there are some types that are particularly good at reducing stress. A few of the best exercises for stress reduction are running, yoga, walking, circuit training, pilates, and tennis. Other types of exercise that offer many of the benefits include biking, swimming, water aerobics, racquetball, dancing, and rowing.
Because there are so many different types of exercise that will help reduce stress, experts recommend finding a type of exercise that you enjoy. This will help to further improve your mood, as it’s something you’ll look forward to instead of dreading, making it more likely that you’ll stick with it. Another expert tip to help maximize stress reduction is exercising with someone else. This is another way to make sure you stick with a routine. Plus, the time spent with a friend will help to further reduce stress.
If you’ve gotten out of the habit of exercising, it can be hard to get started, and sometimes trying to can seem like it only adds to your stress levels. However, finding time to exercise, even when it seems hard to do, will be worth it for your overall health and well-being. Researchers at Harvard summarize some of the benefits of exercise well by observing that exercise has the unique ability to simultaneously exhilarate and relax while stimulating and calming you.
Stress is an inevitable part of life, but regular aerobic exercise is an effective way to manage it. With that in mind, it’s important to find a type of exercise that you enjoy, making sure that you stick with it even in the busiest and most stressful times. Doing so will help you reduce your stress levels and avoid the negative effects of chronic stress.