Using Exercise to Beat Stress
Nothing can beat regular exercise as a stress-busting technique. The result of the ‘fight or fight’ reaction is that our bodies go into a state of high arousal but there is often nowhere for that energy to go, so our bodies can stay in this state for hours at a time. Exercise is the best way to dissipate the excess energy, especially if you have a sedentary job.
It’s a good idea to channel your energy into proper exercise, be it a brisk walk, a run, a bike ride or a game of squash. You don’t need to join a health club— exercise can be as informal as taking the dog for a walk, or dancing at home to your favorite music.
Experts recommend that we exercise at a moderate intensity for a minimum of 30 minutes, most days of the week. And there are many reasons to do so. Exercise not only improves health and reduces stress, it also relaxes tense muscles and helps you to sleep. It causes the release of chemicals called endorphins into your bloodstream, making you feel relaxed and happy. As such, it can be a helpful tool in fighting depression and anxiety, as well as keeping you trim and reducing your risk of heart conditions and stroke, managing high blood pressure, diabetes and back pain. All in all, fit people are better able to handle the long-term effects of stress without suffering ill health.
What To Choose
Walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, aerobics classes or DVDs, and dancing are all great forms of exercise. If you choose something you enjoy, it won’t feel like a chore.
It is also a good idea to vary your activities to avoid boredom. For example, if you normally exercise indoors, try an outdoor activity.
Exercise should be fun. It’s difficult to keep going with an exercise program that you don’t enjoy. Exercising with a friend might encourage you to keep it up longer, and try activities that will make you forget you’re exercising, such as roller-skating or flying a kite.
If you find yourself making excuses, write them down and assess each one. Perhaps you say:
- I don’t have the time/money.
- I am not the sporty type/no good at exercise.
- I don’t enjoy exercise.
- I am too old/tired/overweight/self-conscious.
- There are no facilities close by.
- I can’t be bothered.
However, exercise doesn’t have to take place at the gym or on a treadmill. Anyone can exercise even without spending money, leaving the house or having a particular skill. And everyone feels better afterwards. Just remember to warm up and cool down, to avoid injury.
Even the least fit among us usually are able to incorporate some walking into our schedules. An organized walking routine can be a great form of aerobic exercise. It’s free, and strengthens the heart and lungs as well as the legs. It also helps to prevent osteoporosis, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, helps with diabetes, and increases flexibility.
Walking for 30 minutes most days can be an easily achievable target, perhaps walking all or part of the way to work, or a 15 minute burst at lunchtime and another in the evening. As your fitness improves, you could even try alternating with a slow jog.
Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is a choice that will become automatic after a short time.
Yoga reduces stress and improves strength, flexibility, coordination, circulation and posture. It may even reduce the frequency of asthma attacks.
Yoga is an ancient Indian practice, dating back more than 5000 years. The word yoga means union, and was originally designed to lead to union of the human spirit with nature. However, today many people use it as a technique to link the body and mind in a way that encourages peacefulness and relaxation. It uses stretching postures, breathing, and meditation techniques to calm the mind and tone the body.
There are different types of yoga, but almost of those used in the West are forms of Hatha Yoga. This is a combination of asanas (physical exercises and postures), pranayamas (breathing techniques) and meditation.
You can learn about yoga from books and videos, but the best way is through attending a class with an experienced instructor.
Also known as tai chi ch’uan, this form of martial art will help to reduce stress and improve strength and flexibility.
Based in the Chinese Taoist philosophy, it was developed for health, self-defense, and spiritual development. It combines a series of gentle physical movements and breathing techniques, allowing you to experience a meditative state. The idea is that it facilitates the flow of chi (“life energy”) through the body by dissolving blockages both within the body and between the body and the environment. Through concentration, coordinated breathing and slow, graceful body movements, it aims to increase well-being.
It has recently been found that Tai Chi has physiological and psychosocial benefits and promotes balance control, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness in patients with chronic health conditions.
Tai chi is now practiced all over the world and, as with yoga, it’s best to learn from a qualified teacher.