Stress-Busting Moves: Exercise for Stress Management

I was chatting with a client yesterday who mentioned that she might not get another session in before the new year. She’s been working hard for the last several months, and has had a significant mindset change – regular low-intensity work outs, a shift in eating habits, managing her stress levels like a pro, and with a great plan for keeping up with health choices while out of routine.  I think a couple of months “on her own” will be a great way to figure out what’s left to work on – if anything!

Not all of us are headed into the holiday season quite so prepared though. No matter how much you love the holiday season, it can be a stressful time. Family is great – but not always. Holiday foods are delicious – but easy to go overboard with. Add that to a disrupted routine and a bunch of extra chores/jobs/travel to juggle and stress levels can skyrocket.

Researchers have looked at stress management and a wide variety of exercise types, intensities, and frequencies  – what you do, how hard you work, and how often you do it. The results are pretty awesome: it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something. Exercise has a significant positive impact on mental, emotional, and physical stress and health. So pick one of these stress-reducing workouts (the one that sounds most appealing) and give it a try. You’ll feel better, brush off the stress more easily, and maybe even look forward to the holidays a little more!

Cardiovascular Exercisewalking the dog

Walk, jog, run. Ride your bike, paddle your kayak, jump on your unicycle. Take the dog out for a cruise around the block. Steady, rhythmic movements are the hallmark of cardio work.

The stress-busting benefits of cardiovascular work come when you get your heart rate up. But that doesn’t mean you have to break a sweat! Even a small increase, like one you would get with going for a walk, is easily enough. Aim for a minimum of 10 minutes, but go for a little longer if you want greater benefit. This can be any combination of slow, steady work or interval training. No matter your current fitness, this can be an option for everyone!

Strength Training

Same heart rate rules apply with strength training. This is essentially interval training, with periods of harder work alternating with easier work or rest (assuming the weights you’re lifting are a bit challenging). Find a heavy thing. Pick it up. Put it down. Repeat, then rest. Choosing exercises that use multiple joints give you a little more bang-for-buck, but anything works. Plus, feeling strong is an awesome feeling!

yogaYoga/Tai Chi/Pilates

People jump in here to tell you that these types of exercise are different. It’s true that they are different in their methods and approaches, but they are all movement. These types of exercise are often slow and deliberate, with an emphasis on breathing and a mindful approach to how you’re using your body. (This is a really powerful way to build body awareness, which is a great tool to managing your own health.) The mindfulness of these movements is one of the greatest benefits. Focusing on your breath and movement keep you from thinking about any other stressful things. It’s a zero-sum game and I like it!

Stretching

Done correctly, stretching should be mildly uncomfortable, enough so that holding feels fairly intense (without being so horrible that you want to quit). If you want a stress-busting stretch, stretch your muscle until you feel that comfortable-but-challenging stretch, and breathe deeply and slowly with an aim to relax that muscle. You’ll feel the stretch melt away, and might even be surprised by breaking a sweat. Please remember though: there is such a thing as too much stretch! Aim for a maximum intensity of 6-7 out of 10 to keep your muscles lengthening without damage.

For stress management, you can do as much or little exercise as you like. Even a minute of two of taking time our for a quick stretch or a walk down the block can help clear your head and drop your blood pressure. This list is certainly not exhaustive though. What are your favorite stress-relieving moves? I’d love it hear it!

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