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Exercise Strategies for Stress Reduction

1. Is it better if you're getting your heart rate up to a certain level or is low intensity exercise going to help with stress too?

Everyone responds to stress in various ways. But the best way to manage our daily stress is with regular exercise.

The great news is a little exercise goes a long way. Even a simple 10- to 30-minute stroll can reduce stress, clear the mind, and improve mood. Exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever - from a slow vinyasa flow to a HIIT (high intensity interval training) session.

Even though many people strain their bodies with more vigorous exercise in attempt to combat stress, experts agree that even a low to moderate amount of regular exercise has short and long-term benefits. Recent study results show that moderate-intensity anaerobic exercise is also associated with greater mood improvements.

There are also mental benefits of aerobic exercise.  The brain's neurochemical response reduces cortisol levels -- our body's stress hormone -- as well as adrenaline. It also stimulates the production of feel-good endorphins - the natural mood elevators in the brain!

Often described as "the runner's high," this euphoric state induces feelings of elation, reduces stress, and decreases the ability to feel pain. However, you don’t need to run a half marathon to get this benefit. Several other forms of exercise (like what?) can trigger the same response. Continue reading!

2. What are some specific exercises people can do to help reduce stress?

Virtually any type of exercise can boost your feel-good endorphins and cleanse the mind from daily worries. The most important thing is to pick an activity you enjoy. Here’s 6 types of activities proven to ease stress and can be done in a gym or at-home - thanks to the unlimited number of online and app-based fitness class programs available.

Yoga: An excellent stress-relieving activity involving a series stationary and moving poses combined with deep breathing. Yoga can strengthen your body’s natural relaxation response and connection between the body and mind. Research shows that yoga improves overall brain functioning and improves emotional regulation which decreases anxiety and depression.

Try a restorative, vinyasa, or yin yoga class and feel your stress melt away. After one session on your mat, you'll immediately reap the benefits of decreased daily stress levels. Namaste.

HIIT Training: Designed to push you to your limits, HIIT was named one of the top fitness trends in the world in 2019, based on an annual survey by the American College of Sports Medicine. High intensity interval training targets performance of each exercise at max effort for a brief period of time, followed by a brief active recovery or rest.

High intensity interval training is one of the most effective stress reduction exercises which can be done with minimal or no equipment. These shortened workouts will optimize metabolic efficiency and give you an endorphin boost that will leave you coming back for more.

Tai Chi: Similar to yoga but with less exertion, tai chi is a series of self-paced, body-flow movements synced with specific breathing techniques. Although the movements have roots in martial arts, they are intended to calm the mind and condition the body, making tai chi an excellent choice for stress relief. A low effort exercise good for all ages you can practice anywhere.

Pilates: With an emphasis on alignment, breathing, and developing a strong core, Pilates utilizes a series of controlled movements and mat exercises. Developed by Joseph Pilates it was first practiced by soldiers returning from war and dancers. It’s designed to increase strength, flexibility, and endurance as well as improve coordination and balance making Pilates an effective anaerobic exercise that relieves stress as well as tone the body.

Pilates studios offer traditional mat Pilates, as well as Pilates reformer classes. Reformers utilize an apparatus designed using a carriage propelled by leather straps or ropes and risers, as well as a spring, foot bar, and gear system to alter resistance during the exercises.

Kickboxing: Kickboxing has powerful stress-busting benefits, encouraging the flow of endorphins. It involves controlled punching and kicking movements. The exercises help improve strength, coordination, and balance, and makes for an incredible physically intensive outlet to release energy.

You don’t need to find a gym with a boxing ring for this rigorous, uplifting workout. You can typically find a local kickboxing studio near you and many popular gyms offer kickboxing as a standard group class.

3. What about for people with joint issues? Are there low-impact exercises they can do to help reduce stress?

For those with joint issues, Yoga and Tai Chi are the perfect low-impact activity. Walking, bicycling, swimming, rowing, and elliptical machines are also great aerobic stress reducing exercises that are low-impact on your joints.

Isometric and isotonic exercises can also be incorporated into your low-impact workout routine. Isometric exercise, like pressing your palms together with force, involves building muscle in a way that relieves any stress or pressure on joints. Isotonic exercises are gentle exercises that create resistance with your own body weight like lifting and lowering your leg from the knee while sitting in a chair which is a low-impact way to build strength and muscle with very little resistance.

4. Is there anything else you think our readers should know on this subject?

Spring is here! Exercising outdoors stimulates your senses and can help clear your mind in way the gym doesn't offer. Taking advantage of outdoor exercises such as biking, walking, jogging, hiking, kayaking, and rollerblading in beautiful settings can be a pleasant way to lift your mood and strengthen your connection with mother nature. Plus, they're great activities for a date!

When choosing the best exercise for you, always remember to be aware your body's limits. Pushing too hard can lead to injury.


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