Managing Stress with Physical Activity

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There are so many benefits to physical activity: stronger bones and muscles, more energy, better resistance to illness. But did you know it’s also a great way to reduce stress?

A brisk walk, game of tennis, or fitness class helps you let off steam, distracts you from your source of stress, and improves your mood. It also relaxes and re-energizes your body.

There are other benefits to making exercise the center of your stress-blasting program too. People who are routinely active tend to eat better. And a healthy diet also helps your body manage stress better. In addition, physical activity can help you lose weight and keep it off, and feel better about yourself.

Suit Yourself
So what kind of physical activity works best for beating stress? That depends on you — the type of person you are, what you enjoy doing best, and what triggers your stress. The important thing is to get moving!

Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, at least five days a week. Doing more is even better. Remember that doing something you really like is the best way to get and stay motivated. Find one that appeals to you.

  • Go Solo. If you work with many people all day, a crowded exercise class after work might only add to your stress. A walk or a jog round the neighborhood, or a home-exercise video might be the thing for you.
  • Let Loose. Try a boxing or kickboxing class if laying into a punching bag helps you release built-up tension.
  • Buddy Up. An exercise buddy could provide the “oomph” you need on days you don’t feel like working out. If you work alone during the day, a class at a health club or recreation center could relieve stress caused by loneliness or isolation.
  • Compete If You Can. For some people, nothing gets rid of pent-up stress hormones better than an intense game of tennis or racquetball. But steer clear of these activities if competition causes more stress than it releases.
  • Double Up On Benefits. Some forms of exercise have built-in relaxation techniques. For instance, yoga combines deep breathing, stretching, and meditation. Some martial arts classes and programs, such as Tai Chi, focus on meditation and positive thinking to strengthen both mind and body.
  • Set Realistic Goals. While reasonable amounts of physical activity can reduce stress, overdoing it can make it worse. Be realistic about your fitness goals. Trying to do too much could be mentally and physically stressful.

Fitting It All In
If the thought of trying to squeeze one more thing into your overcrowded life is enough to make you break a sweat, relax. With some planning and rearranging, you can build more activity into your routine. Try:

  • Getting your physical activity in small spurts. For each 90 minutes you sit at your desk, spend 10 minutes taking a walk, stretching your muscles, or climbing stairs. Walk the dog for 15 minutes before and after work.
  • Finding something you love to do — hike, ski, dance, roller-skate — so it doesn’t seem like another sacrifice of time and energy.
  • Giving something else up, like television. You might find you miss it less than you think.

Physical activity is great for fighting stress. But sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, we still need help coping with stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional problems. In these situations, there are people who can help, like mental health professionals, social workers, and clergy. Don’t let stress ruin your health. There’s a lot you can do to control it.


Article originally published at AARP.com.

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