What do work deadlines, sitting in traffic, paying your bills, grocery lines, raising your kids, and battling the bulge have in common? While there may be many suitable answers, one of the top common denominators is: stress! In the United States alone, seven out of ten adults report feeling some type of stress daily. Although people have different stressors, it is something that once it starts to affect us, is often hard to stop. What sets someone off may vary from individual to individual. Some people feel stress over the smallest things, while others have a much higher tolerance for stress. Regardless, stress can take a physical and mental toll on your overall health if it is not handled correctly.
The key to stress management is finding ways to relieve stress so that you can cope with any situation that unfolds. Luckily, there are many proven strategies to help us handle and decrease stress, it just might take a bit of trial and error to figure out what works best for you. For us, exercise has always been one of the many tools we use to help get a handle on the stress.
Let’s face it, stress not only affects your brain, but with so many connections to your nerves, it can be felt throughout your entire body. For many, stress can manifest in sadness, anger, exhaustion, mood swings, insomnia, poor eating, panic attacks, and many other ways. The key to helping to reduce or manage stress is linked with learning coping skills and raising the endorphins in your brain to counteract these feelings. While exercise has been found to be a great outlet for stress, others turn to meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, conventional therapy and music as other ways to manage stress.
Studies show that exercise can play a very significant role in helping stress reduction and management. As you engage in physical activity, your body reacts by releasing endorphins. These endorphins are actually hormones that work to fight stress. As the endorphins are increased, your brain can start to feel more clear, energized, and alert. These effects all play a role in allowing you to manage stress and find new ways to prioritize and cope with emotions.
Do you use exercise to help manage stress? If so, what type works best for you? Although any form of exercise that allows you to escape the stress and relax will work, there are several forms that have been found to be especially helpful. Perhaps one of these is right for you.
Strength Training – Strength training can have a profound impact on stress levels and mood. Just like other forms of exercise, strength training provides feel-good hormones, but lifting is one of our favorites because of the satisfaction you can get from really pushing yourself, and subsequently, feeling and seeing yourself get stronger. Try one of these free workouts: Squats and Deadlifts Workout – At Home Lower Body Workout or Upper Body Workout for Great Arms, Back, Chest, and Shoulders.
Aerobic Exercise – Participating in aerobic activities such as running, spinning, cardio, or dance also offer the benefit of an increased heart rate. When your heart rate goes up, your body will release an increased amount of endorphins, which allow you to “feel good” – both physically and mentally. HIIT workouts, in particular, may be a good way to keep the workout quick and maximally effective for healthy weight management and time efficiency. Try this abs & HIIT cardio workout.
Yoga – This type of exercise is considered a mind-body exercise, which in itself can strengthen your body’s internal response to stress. Yoga often involves various poses with deep breathing, which allows you to learn to relax while strengthening your body and improving your posture. Check out Fitness Blender’s 3 Day Flexibility Challenge.
Martial Arts – For many people, martial arts is the perfect way to get in shape, release energy, and reduce tension. Learning the techniques is helpful in keeping your mind occupied and away from stressors. The many forms of martial arts allow you to learn self-discipline while keeping you in shape.
Kickboxing – For many people under stress, there is a strong feeling of tension and anger. Taking up kickboxing is a great way to reduce your stress through a series of punching and kicking movements. Improving your balance, burning calories, and becoming more flexible are among the many benefits of this form of exercise. Check out Cardio Kickboxing and Bodyweight Cardio or Cardio Kickboxing & Abs – Kickboxing for Stress & Cardio Benefits.
Pilates – Despite the fact that Pilates is considered an anaerobic exercise, it is also a stress-relieving exercise to consider learning. Pilates focuses on mat exercises with a series of controlled movements. This workout format was created to improve strength, endurance, and flexibility. Here’s a free Pilates workout: Lower Body Pilates Workout – Butt and Thigh Workout you may want to try.
Quick side note: meditation is probably not something that comes to mind when you think stress relieving “exercise” – but I just wanted to leave a note to encourage you to try and start a meditation habit, if you don’t have one already. It takes some practice and may feel awkward at first, but it can help with stress, chronic pain, depression, etc. (of course, it does not replace a visit to your personal healthcare provider).
So, the next time you feel a stressful situation coming on, perhaps it is best to put on your sneakers and earn a Workout Complete with one of our 500+ free workout videos!
Do you have a favorite type of training for days where you are feeling particularly stressed? We’d love to hear what works for you!
Feeling anxious? Everyone responds to stress in different ways, but we all have one thing in common: Regular exercise reduces the harmful effects of stress.
Road rage, sleeping too much or too little, bingeing on TV or comfort foods, drinking more alcohol than usual, procrastinating, or chewing your fingernails down to the nub. Any of these sound familiar?
Stress affects each of us in different ways. You may have physical signs (such as headaches, tense or sore muscles, or trouble sleeping), emotional signs (such as feeling anxious or depressed), or both. Healthy habits, including regular physical activity such as walking, can help reduce or prevent some of the harmful effects of stress.
Stress sets off a chain of events. The body reacts to it by releasing a hormone, adrenaline, that temporarily causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up and your blood pressure to rise. These physical reactions prepare you to deal with the situation by confronting it or by running away from it — the “fight or flight” response. When stress is constant (chronic), your body remains in high gear off and on for days or weeks at a time.
Chronic stress can take a physical toll on you. It can weaken your immune system and cause uncomfortable physical symptoms like headache and stomach problems.
- Does chronic stress cause high blood pressure or heart disease?
- How can being more active help?
- Physical activity can:
- Exercise as Stress Relief
- How Does Exercise Help With Stress?
- How Much Exercise Do You Need?
- What Types of Exercise Help With Stress?
- Check with Your Doctor
- What are Mindful Workouts?
- The Benefits of Mindful Workouts
- How to do exercises that relieve stress a.k.a. mindful workouts
- Examples of Exercises to Relieve Stress
- How Strength Training Helps Keep Anxiety at Bay
- Improving sleep for chronic worriers
- Keeping anxiety from escalating
- Facing feared sensations head-on
- Lifting Weights Has a Surprising Effect on Mental Health
- 6 Exercises That Help Get Rid of Stress
- 1. Tennis
- 2. Interval training
- 3. Yoga
- 4. Weight lifting
- 5. Boxing
- 6. Cycling
- 7 Best Exercises For Stress, Because Workouts Can Help Tame Your Anxiety
- Exercise: A Healthy Stress Reliever
Does chronic stress cause high blood pressure or heart disease?
The link between stress and cardiovascular disease is not clear, but it can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices that are associated with high blood pressure and heart disease. While the exact causes of high blood pressure are unknown, contributing factors include being overweight, eating too much sodium (salt), lack of physical activity and drinking too much alcohol.
How can being more active help?
Regular physical activity can improve quality of lifeand relieve stress, tension, anxiety and depression. You may notice a “feel good” sensation immediately following your workout and also see an improvement in overall well-being over time as physical activity becomes a regular part of your life.
Physical activity can:
- release stress and calm you
- improve your mood and help you think clearly
- keep your mind off cigarettes if you’re trying to quit
- help control your appetite
- help you lose weight if you’re overweight, or stay at a healthy weight
- give you more energy and stamina
- lower your blood pressure
- increase your “good” HDL cholesterol level
- reduce your risk of developing heart disease and stroke
- help control blood sugar by improving how your body uses insulin
- improve your quality of sleep
- help you feel better about how you look
Exercise as Stress Relief
When you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, you need to manage a number of new stressors on an ongoing basis. Dealing with more frequent doctor visits, getting used to new medical treatments, and adjusting to lifestyle changes are just some of the factors that may cause you to experience stress and anxiety.
Fortunately, you can take some simple steps to help relieve stress. Many of those steps can help improve your overall health as well, including the health of your heart. Exercise is one of the best strategies for combating stress and managing heart disease.
Physical activity can help lower your overall stress levels and improve your quality of life, both mentally and physically. Exercising regularly can have a positive effect on your mood by relieving the tension, anxiety, anger, and mild depression that often go hand-in-hand with stress. It can improve the quality of your sleep, which can be negatively impacted by stress, depression, and anxiety. It can also help boost your confidence levels.
How Does Exercise Help With Stress?
Physical activity improves your body’s ability to use oxygen and also improves blood flow. Both of these changes have a direct effect on your brain. Exercise also increases your brain’s production of endorphins. Endorphins are the “feel-good” neurotransmitters that are responsible for the coveted “runner’s high.” This is the sense of well-being and euphoria that many people experience after exercise.
Physical activity can also help take your mind off your worries. The repetitive motions involved in exercise promote a focus on your body, rather than your mind. By concentrating on the rhythm of your movements, you experience many of the same benefits of meditation while working out. Focusing on a single physical task can produce a sense of energy and optimism. This focus can help provide calmness and clarity.
Some people notice an improvement in their mood immediately after a workout. Those feelings don’t end there, but generally become cumulative over time. Chances are, you will notice increased feelings of well-being as you stay committed to a consistent exercise routine.
In addition to having a direct effect on your stress levels, regular exercise also promotes optimum health in other ways. Improvements to your overall health may help indirectly moderate your stress levels. By improving your physical wellness and heart health, you’ll have less to feel stressed about.
Among some of its additional benefits, exercise can help:
- strengthen your muscles and bones
- strengthen your immunity, which can decrease your risk of illness and infection
- lower your blood pressure, sometimes as much as some antihypertensive medications
- boost levels of good cholesterol in your blood
- improve your blood circulation
- improve your ability to control weight
- help you sleep better at night
- boost your energy
- improve your self-image
How Much Exercise Do You Need?
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week. They suggest breaking it down by tackling 30-minute workout sessions at least five days a week. If you’re short on time, and can’t fit in a full 30-minute session, three 10-minute workouts have been shown to work almost as well as 30 minutes at once.
The AHA also encourages you to incorporate at least two sessions of muscle-strengthening activities into your weekly routine. You should give all your major muscle groups a good workout, including your arms, shoulders, chest, back, abdomen, legs, abdominals and other core muscles.
Be sure to build up your physical activity level gradually if you’re new to an exercise program. For example, your doctor might suggest you start with 20 minutes of aerobic exercise, three days a week, and increase gradually from there.
What Types of Exercise Help With Stress?
There are many ways to meet your weekly exercise targets. What type of physical activity should you choose?
You don’t need to be a marathon runner or elite athlete to experience stress relief from exercise. Almost any kind of exercise can be helpful.
For example, consider trying moderate aerobic exercises such as:
- brisk walking or jogging
- swimming or doing water aerobics
- playing tennis or racquetball
When it comes to muscle-strengthening exercises, consider trying weight lifting or activities with resistance bands.
Even something as simple as gardening or choosing to take the stairs rather than the elevator can give you an emotional lift.
Any type of exercise can increase your fitness and decrease your stress. However, it’s important to choose an activity that you enjoy rather than dread. If you don’t like the water, don’t choose swimming as your activity. If the thought of running makes you anxious, training for a 5K race won’t help relieve your stress. Try a variety of activities until you find some you enjoy. When you’re having fun, you’ll be more likely to stick with your workout routine.
Working out with someone else can also add to the stress-busting benefits of workout. Sharing it with family members of friends can make exercise feel more like fun and less like work.
Check with Your Doctor
If you’re out of shape or new to exercising, ask your doctor for guidance on what forms of exercise are right for you. They can help you develop a safe and effective workout routine while taking your specific condition and fitness level into account. Discuss appropriate intensity levels with your doctor.
You can enjoy the stress-relieving benefits of exercise even if you’re out of shape or not athletic. Regular exercise can help you feel less stressed, anxious, and depressed, and more relaxed, optimistic, and happy. It can also improve your overall health, including the health of your heart.
Exercise and stress are linked in two ways: on one hand, exercise can be a go-to stress management method and on the other, if you over do it, a.k.a. overtrain, exercising can increase your stress levels.
We talk a lot about how to see fitness results and smash your race goals, but this article is all about the other side of exercise: stress relief.
We’ve already seen a shift towards using exercise as a way to ease stress but what may be less familiar to many is how to combine exercise with mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness provides many of the same benefits as exercise in relieving stress and anxiety so with that in mind, why not harness both techniques?
Here’s how to take the mindful approach to exercising.
What are Mindful Workouts?
Mindfulness is an optimal approach to doing exercises to relieve stress. Mindful workouts can come in a variety of forms, but the key is the mindset with which you approach exercise. Taking a mindful approach to a workout means being present and in the moment, not being judgmental of yourself, and entering a flow state with your movement.
On a deeper level, mindfulness allows you to understand what your body truly needs from both a performance and recovery perspective.
The practice of mindful exercise comprises:
- Being intentional with your movement
- Staying in-the-moment during your workout
- Strengthening the mind-body connection
- Accepting where you are at without judgment
The Benefits of Mindful Workouts
While there are obvious benefits to mindful workouts, a key takeaway for athletes of all levels is understanding how to use each training session to improve athletic performance, recovery and overall wellbeing.
Training programs put our bodies through a stress response during exercise – which is a good thing as this allows us to adapt to stimulus so that we get stronger, faster and more resilient. But, it also ratchets up hormones like cortisol, which can take a toll on our bodies if we’re not properly balancing our training.
To adapt effectively, athletes need to watch their stress levels and dial back intensity appropriately. Too much stress and cortisol can eventually impair recovery, change where fat is deposited, impair immune function and increase the likelihood of illness.
The good news is that mindful low-intensity workouts not only feel good in the moment, but measurably counteract stress response of intense training sessions.
That means that mindful workouts lead to:
- Faster and better recovery
- Quicker adaptation to stimulus
- Improved performance
How to do exercises that relieve stress a.k.a. mindful workouts
Clearly define the purpose of your workout, and remind yourself of it throughout. That might mean intentionally setting a goal for the day, choosing beforehand whether it is more beneficial to take a low or high-intensity approach, deciding specifically to focus on a particular muscle group, or setting and sticking to a workout duration.
Use your training history and recovery data to set meaningful goals for each training session.
The best training programs are structured for the individual and take into account recovery status, current ability and the purpose of each workout. You will maximize the benefits of your workout if you approach a training program with mindful intention.
Monitoring stress levels and checking in with your body is crucial to approaching your workout mindfully. Check your recovery status before a training session to determine what the intention for your workout should be.
Tip for Polar users
If you use the Polar Ignite or one of the Polar Vantage series sports watches, especially the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) Charge score in the Nightly Recharge feature can give you a good indication of your stress levels by monitoring your breathing rate and heart rate variability overnight.
If your stress hormones are high, opt for lowered intensity on poor recovery days.
Being mindful means keeping your focus trained on the current moment and the goal of each exercise. Distractions are an almost constant part of modern life. Turning off device notifications during your workout can be a big help, and even deciding not to listen to music on a run can allow you to tune in to your body in a new way.
Find something that keeps you concentrated on the now.
A simple way to stay focused during your workout is to choose an anchor to return to throughout your exercise. That could be the in-and-out of your breath as you run, the position of your feet on your yoga mat, or the movement patterns of your barbell lifts.
Strengthen the mind-body connection
There are many benefits to connecting your mind and body during movement, including the ability to engage specific muscle groups appropriately to maximize results. Focus on specific muscles in isolation, on contractions and posture, breathing, and how each movement feels.
Concentrating on the feel of movement in this way can help you iron out kinks in form and stimulate better muscle adaptation. It can even help you figure out the roots of any repetitive strain injuries you’ve developed and importantly, teach you how to use your body effectively.
Accept without judgment
More than just minimizing distractions, this includes letting go of past performance and of future goals. Mindful workouts are all about being committed and purposeful in your movement, not longing for different results or judging your current abilities or recovery level.
The benefit to acceptance is the ability to enter a flow state with your movement, which can give you significant insight into your current abilities. Reflecting on your performance at a later time can help you improve, but during the workout it can be a distraction. Try letting go of thoughts about how long the workout is, how difficult it might be, or what your cooldown is going to look like.
Having compassion for yourself is a hallmark of mindfulness. Choose your workout appropriately based on your current abilities and recovery status. If you aren’t feeling well-recovered, that means choosing a lower-intensity workout like walking, stretching or longer-form cardio.
The Polar Ignite fitness watch can take the guesswork out of this by suggesting specific active recovery workouts for supportive or cardio exercise that can be done anywhere with minimal equipment.
Examples of Exercises to Relieve Stress
Workouts that are particularly helpful when cultivating mindfulness include training styles that ask you to form an understanding of where your body is in space.
An easy way to do this is to take a stretching class where there are minimal distractions and you are asked to focus on breathing and posture. Guided yoga classes are a great place to start.
Polar Ignite’s daily workout suggestions can help you tune into your body’s needs and develop an understanding of how to maximize mindfulness and recovery.
Choosing low-intensity and active recovery workouts that you can do at home or without the use of a gym are another great option. Online instructional videos or apps are abundant and can help you find a new recovery routine.
Mindful workouts are a great way to relieve stress, but their impact goes much deeper. When you’re in the moment and moving with intention, you can gain a better understanding of how to improve long term performance and recovery potential. In the end, that’s invaluable to overall wellbeing and fitness.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.
Want to quiet your racing mind? Take it to the gym: Weight training can help relieve your anxiety, a new meta-analysis in the journal Sports Medicine suggests.
That’s what researchers concluded after crunching the numbers from 16 previous studies on 922 participants. The lifting routine varied in each study, but ranged from two to five days per week for an average of 11 weeks, and included either lifting at moderate intensity—about 50 to 80 percent of your one-rep max—or high intensity, or above 80 percent of your one-rep max.
After completing the lifting program, the participants reported significant improvement in their anxiety symptoms. Healthy people—those without a physical or mental illness—received an even greater boost from pumping iron.
Two Types of Resistance Training:
It’s no surprise that exercise in general calms your raging mind, but most of the research in the past has linked the effects to cardio options, like running or cycling. And that may be because aerobic exercise boosts the production a protein in your brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which can help your brain resist stress, as we reported in the past.
This analysis, however, concludes that the anxiety-reducing effects of lifting is similar to that you’d get doing your cardio—welcome news for guys who’d rather push some weight rather than hit the treadmill.
The researchers aren’t sure exactly how lifting helps your brain, but they believe it may have to do with both the social and physiological effects of pumping iron. Lifting often has a social component, which can help ease stress, they write. But it also may help regulate monoamine neurotransmitters in your brain—including dopamine and serotonin, which play a role in mood. (Here are six other ways your brain benefits when your body is in great shape.)
Want to get started? These are the best workouts that will help you relieve stress. (You can also try The 21-Day MetaShred, the at-home workout from the Men’s Health that will help you build muscle and burn fat.)
Christa Sgobba For nearly 10 years, Christa has created health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness content that’s steeped in science but engaging enough that people actually want to read it.
How Strength Training Helps Keep Anxiety at Bay
Buff arms and tight abs aren’t the only benefits of resistance training. There’s growing evidence that it may help you resist excessive worry and anxiety, too.
Resistance training (aka strength training or weight training) builds muscular strength and endurance by exercising a muscle or muscle group against external resistance. Free weights, dumbbells, weight machines, resistance bands, medicine balls, or the weight of your own body can be used to challenge your muscles this way.
In the process, you might be doing your mental outlook a favor, too. “The research literature suggests that even single bouts of resistance exercise may produce moderate improvements in anxiety,” says Justin Strickland, M.S., a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky and lead author of a journal article reviewing this research.
Likewise, Strickland notes, several small studies have found reductions in anxiety when resistance training is done regularly for six weeks or longer. That holds true across a range of study populations, including older adults, stroke survivors, and women with polycystic ovary syndrome.
A mountain of evidence shows that aerobic exercise—such as brisk walking, running, cycling, or playing tennis—can help improve your mood, reduce your stress, and boost well-being. Comparatively speaking, research on the anxiety-fighting potential of resistance training is still at the molehill stage. Although there’s a lot yet to be learned, early studies offer clues to how resistance exercise may help keep anxiety at bay.
Improving sleep for chronic worriers
Worrying now and then is part of life. But for people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), excessive, ongoing worry and anxiety about a variety of things can spiral out of control. Disturbed sleep often goes hand in hand with this pattern of chronic worrying. People with GAD may have trouble falling asleep, or their slumber may be fitful and restless.
One way resistance training might be beneficial is by promoting better sleep. In an interesting study, young women with GAD were randomly assigned to lower-body weight training (resistance exercise), cycling (aerobic exercise), or a waiting list (the control group). The resistance and aerobic exercise groups each worked out twice a week for six weeks.
Both types of exercise improved sleep, especially on the weekend. Resistance training was particularly helpful. “Basically, short-term exercise training helped these young women go to sleep more quickly and sleep more efficiently,” says Matthew Herring, Ph.D., the lead researcher and a lecturer in exercise psychology at the University of Limerick in Ireland. Improvements in sleep were associated with reductions in anxiety.
“Our findings did not really address whether reduced anxiety led to better sleep, or vice versa,” Herring says. However, other research suggests that the relationship cuts both ways, and physical activity may be good for both at the same time.
Keeping anxiety from escalating
A second way in which resistance training may be beneficial is by reducing anxiety sensitivity—fear of the physical sensations caused by anxiety. People who are high in anxiety sensitivity often catastrophize such sensations, says Joshua Broman-Fulks, Ph.D., a professor of clinical psychology at Appalachian State University.
For instance, they might believe that an anxiously racing heart is a sign of an impending heart attack. That only makes them feel even more alarmed. Over time, they begin to fear not only the object or situation that originally set off their anxiety, but also the distressing sensation itself.
In a study headed up by Broman-Fulks, volunteers were randomly assigned to a single, 20-minute session of weight training (resistance exercise), treadmill use (aerobic exercise), or rest (the control group). Afterward, they took part in a carbon dioxide challenge task. This involved inhaling a whiff of carbon dioxide mixed with oxygen, which made them feel momentarily breathless—a sensation that mimicked the rapid, shallow breathing caused by anxiety. They also responded to a questionnaire that measured anxiety sensitivity.
The results showed that resistance exercise and aerobic exercise were equally effective at reducing anxiety sensitivity. The study didn’t look at how exercise exerted this effect, but Broman-Fulks speculates that it may “serve as a form of exposure therapy to feared sensations among individuals with high anxiety sensitivity.”
Facing feared sensations head-on
Exposure therapy is a well-established treatment for anxiety. In this approach, people systematically confront a situation that frightens them excessively. As they see that they can face the situation without anything terrible happening, their fear starts to fade away.
For volunteers in the study, moderate-intensity exercise allowed them to confront the sensation of breathing a little harder than normal. In the lab, that experience seemed to help them cope with the carbon dioxide challenge that followed. Out in the world, positive exercise experiences may help people notice breathlessness due to anxiety without overreacting to it.
Along with changes in breathing, other physiological responses to exercise include an elevated heart rate and increased sweating. Although we often associate these changes with aerobic workouts, Broman-Fulks notes that strength work can bring them on, too.
“During resistance training, brief periods of rest between sets allow those sensations to normalize a bit before being increased again with the next set,” he says. He likens the effect to conducting numerous “mini-exposure sessions” with every resistance training workout.
“In our study, a single bout of resistance training led to significant reductions in anxiety sensitivity,” says Broman-Fulks. “The cumulative evidence to date suggests that weight training may be an effective way to reduce anxiety and other negative mood states.”
Linda Wasmer Andrews specializes in writing about health, psychology, and especially the intersection of the two. Connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.
Lifting Weights Has a Surprising Effect on Mental Health
Once, I read an essay written by someone who was struggling with depression. He didn’t want to work out, do anything productive, or even write the story. He just wanted to lay on the couch and stare into space. “Despite this,” he said, “I’m going to go to my basement in ten minutes and lift. It will make me feel better, and it will get me closer to my goals. I’ve done this more times than I can recall, knowing each time I don’t feel like lifting. After, however, I always feel better, and I’m glad I did it.”
There’s plenty of research out there to show that exercise can help with depression. Most studies, however, look at aerobic exercise, such as cycling or jogging. Does lifting weights do the job just as well? In a paper published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers set out to answer that very question. After analyzing the results of 33 experiments on weight training and depression, here’s what they found.
For starters, strength training was linked across the board to improvements in depressive symptoms, such as low mood, a loss of interest in activities, and feelings of worthlessness. While it’s not a “cure,” lifting weights consistently reduced the symptoms of depression, whether someone felt formally depressed at the start of the study or not.
“Interestingly, larger improvements were found among adults with depressive symptoms indicative of mild-to-moderate depression compared to adults without such scores,” says Brett Gordon, the paper’s lead author and a researcher at Ireland’s University of Limerick. “This suggests resistance training may be particularly effective for those with greater depressive symptoms.”
What’s more, the number of weekly workouts didn’t seem to matter. The benefits were much the same, whether people trained twice or five times a week. In addition, improvements in physical strength didn’t correlate with less depression. Just getting the training done, irrespective of the amount of strength gained, seemed to help.
Resistance training, it turns out, is also a highly effective way to manage symptoms of anxiety. In one study, scientists from the University of Georgia took a group of women with generalized anxiety disorder and assigned them to one of three groups—resistance training, aerobic exercise, and a control group.
More from Tonic:
Both types of exercise led to a significant drop in symptoms of worry, with subjects in the resistance training group seeing the best results. In fact, lifting weights just twice a week led to a remission rate that was on par with antidepressants. When researchers rounded up all the studies on resistance training and anxiety, they found that lifting weights reduced anxiety symptoms in both healthy participants as well as those with a physical or mental illness.
So how does resistance training have this effect on your psychological wellbeing? Your muscles, heart, and lungs aren’t the only things stimulated by exercise. What benefits the body benefits the brain. Just like a muscle, your brain has the capacity to change itself in response to internal and external influences, a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity.
This doesn’t mean that your brain is similar to plastic: Neuro refers to neurons, which are the building blocks of your brain and nervous system, while the term plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change. It was once believed that changes in the brain only took place during infancy and childhood. By the time you’re an adult, the physical structure of your brain was set. Modern research, however, shows that certain regions of your brain can change, adapt, and grow throughout your lifetime.
How does strength training affect your brain? Hormones and hormone-like substances, the production of which is ramped up during exercise, have been shown to cross from the blood into the brain, triggering changes in its structure and function. Some of these changes include the formation of new brain cells, stronger connections between those cells, as well as the creation of new blood vessels, which provide your brain with oxygen and essential nutrients.
Six months of resistance training has also been shown to increase the size of certain regions of the brain. And this change in brain structure was tied to an improvement in mental function. There are also parallels between “mindfulness” and what happens when you’re in the gym lifting weights. Yes, you’re probably sick of hearing about mindfulness, but it can be an effective way to reduce the symptoms of both anxiety and depression, delivering positive changes in psychological wellbeing and quality of life.
Mindfulness involves paying more attention to the present moment—to your own thoughts and feelings, and the sensations you’re experiencing. Mindfulness also teaches that thoughts and feelings are transient. They come and they go, and it’s up to you whether to act on them or not.
All of which is remarkably similar to what happens when you’re in the gym lifting weights. Squatting with a heavy weight across your shoulders, for example, leaves you with no option but to pay attention to the present moment. Setting up your body in just the right way, from the position of your head all the way down to your feet, and making sure that each rep is performed properly, requires intense concentration and focus.
Towards the end of a hard set, the sensations of pain and fatigue sweeping through your body are so powerful that it’s almost impossible for your attention to be anywhere else. Thoughts of throwing in the towel enter your mind. But you decide to ignore them, grit your teeth, and keep going. That’s another key feature of mindfulness—observing your thoughts and feelings, while simultaneously being detached from them. MRI scans show that a mindfulness-based program can lead to functional and structural changes in the brain. But simply going to the gym, lifting weights and training hard several times a week may do the job just as well.
To sum up, lifting weights is good for both the body and the mind. In some cases, it appears to achieve results similar to frontline treatments for depression, such as antidepressants and behavioral therapy. Strength training alone, however, is unlikely to serve as a cure for depression or anxiety, but it can help you manage both conditions, improving both your physical and psychological wellbeing.
Even if you’re currently not depressed or anxious, and would like to stay that way, lifting weights regularly can help change the structure and function of your brain, as well as trigger the release of chemicals that make you feel better.
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Christian Finn is a UK-based personal trainer who holds a masters degree in exercise science. He blogs regularly about health and fitness at MuscleEvo.
6 Exercises That Help Get Rid of Stress
When work projects start piling up faster than you can churn them out, your stress levels can skyrocket pretty quickly. All of those office demands can put a strain on your relationship or other friendships, making matters even worse. While a little bit of pressure now and again can actually be a good thing, prolonged stress is another matter.
Exercise is one of the greatest ways to reduce stress while helping you get in shape. We’re sharing six of our favorite workouts to help you feel decidedly more zen. Stress doesn’t stand a chance.
Tennis can help you relieve stress. | iStock.com
You’re not the only one out there who sometimes feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. You probably have tons of friends dealing with the same kinds of anxieties, so grab a pal and head to the tennis court the next time you’re feeling frazzled. AZCentral says tennis is a great way to blow off steam, because it’s an aerobic activity that manages the stress hormones while boosting feel-good endorphins. Interestingly, the sport can actually be a source of stress during a competitive game. That could actually be good, though, because it will teach you how to manage it more successfully.
It’s also pretty hard to deny the satisfaction of smacking a ball with all your might. If you can’t find a partner to join in, tennis is still a great choice. You can do drills and simulate a volley by bouncing the ball off a wall. Run to fetch your own serves, and you’ll boost the cardiovascular benefits even more.
2. Interval training
Interval training is a great way to blow off steam. | iStock.com
Sometimes the pressure to accomplish a ton of tasks in a tiny amount of time can be the source of your anxiety. When there’s so much work to be done, the thought of trying to squeeze in a workout might seem laughable. You don’t have to spend hours at the gym or go for a 10-mile run to chill out, though. Verywell says interval workouts are particularly good for reducing stress since they let you work at a high-intensity level for shorter time periods. That means you can cut down on the amount of time you spend exercising.
This is also a great method for guys who find themselves both stressed and angry. AskMen says the vigorous bursts are a great way to work through your aggression. And this type of training applies to almost any physical activity. You can do intervals on the treadmill, a bike, or a row machine. Ideally, you want to aim for 15 to 20 minutes.
Yoga is excellent for strength and mindfulness. | iStock.com
Take a peek inside any yoga studio and you’ll find one or two men, if any. Its reputation as a female-only activity needs to be upended, because yoga is one of the best strengthening exercises, regardless of gender. Starting with the physical benefits, Men’s Fitness explains yoga helps prevent injuries, improves flexibility, and builds more muscle since it targets areas your weight routine might ignore.
As for stress, it really can’t be beat. The article went on to explain yoga employs multiple relaxation techniques to help you feel calmer in everyday life. Feeling more zen will allow you to take a step back, instead of freaking out over the little things. Because of this ability to think more clearly, STACK says yoga is one of the best exercises to help athletes stay focused during games. You can apply the same mentality to work. If you’re able to think about the bigger picture, you’ll be able to make better decisions and work through problems faster.
4. Weight lifting
Lifting weights might be even better than cardio. | iStock.com
Some guys dread the cardio portion of their workouts so much that the thought of hitting the treadmill might actually cause more stress than it relieves. Good news — weight training could be just as beneficial. Bodybuilding.com explains lifting heavy weights helps you channel your negative energy, which can help lift your mood. In fact, Livestrong says using heavy weight to strain your muscles can actually boost your endorphins faster than cardio. For the most benefit, focus on lifts that target large amounts of muscle and multiple joints.
Boxing can help you get your aggression out. | iStock.com
While any form of exercise can help reduce stress, you want to pick an activity that focuses on the root of the problem. Active.com says boxing is a great choice for men who feel angry since it’s a combative sport. Each punch you throw into a bag will help you work out your aggression in a much healthier way than getting into a shouting match with colleagues or family members.
While beating up a bag is a great way to help you feel better temporarily, Livestrong says it’s important to incorporate some sort of mental workout in order to make your stress vanish for good. This can include writing in a journal or talking things through with a friend.
Cycling will reduce your anxiety. | iStock.com
Going for a bike ride is a great way to get your heart pumping and your legs burning. It’s also one of the best ways to reduce anxiety. Bicycling explains regularly incorporating cycling into your life helps manage levels of cortisol and adrenaline. That means you’ll feel less stressed after a ride and also learn to cope with high-pressure situations better in the future.
You’ll get the greatest benefit from biking if you pedal for more than 30 minutes. If finding an extra half hour during your busy day doesn’t seem like a possibility, consider commuting by bike. A study from the University of Aberdeen found people who traveled to work via bicycle reported significantly lower levels of stress and a greater sense of freedom than those who opted for the car or public transit. You could eliminate your stress and save money on gas at the same time.
7 Best Exercises For Stress, Because Workouts Can Help Tame Your Anxiety
People deal with stress in many different ways, whether it’s a personal journal, meditation, or simply leaning on a friend. Although it may not be your first instinct to hit the gym at a time of high anxiety, there are exercises that are great for combatting stress. Exercising is not only a good way to distract yourself from your problems, but studies have also found that exercise reduces the amount of stress hormones in the body such as adrenaline and cortisol, according to Harvard Health. Working out also produces endorphins that give you a natural high and a temporary distraction from whatever is bothering you.
“Exercises are great ways to quickly blow off steam, but they become even more beneficial — as stress-reducers and otherwise — if you can make them a daily habit,” Dr. Glenn Laffel, MD, PhD, founder and CEO of Wellcoin says to Bustle over email. In fact, studies have shown that frequent exercise can help reduce anxiety and depression and lessen your chances of developing it over the next few years, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Even just a 10-minute walk a day can help elevate your mood.
The next time you’re feeling a little overly stressed out, try participating in one of these seven workouts, which are the best for fighting off your pesky anxiety.
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“It’s probably no surprise to you that yoga is one of the best workouts for combatting stress,” says Laffel. “Yoga is a mind and body exercise that involves poses or postures, controlled breathing and relaxation. Yoga not only helps de-stress our minds, but it also helps to reduce musculoskeletal tension and spasm that can build up in key areas of our bodies, like the neck, shoulders, back, face, jaw, fingers and wrists.”
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Any exercise that elevates your heart rate is a great way to reduce stress. “When your heart rate is elevated, your brain naturally releases endorphins — the feel good neurotransmitters that reduce the perception of stress and provide many with a sense of euphoria — the so-called ‘runner’s high,” says Laffel.
3. Tai Chi
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Tai Chi was originally developed by the Chinese for self-defense, and it consists of a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner accompanied by deep, controlled breathing. “The movements require gentle stretching, rotating, and twisting which help muscles relax in much the same way yoga does,” says Laffel.
“Don’t forget that many household chores like raking leaves, sweeping, or mopping floors, or snow shoveling, do count as exercise, and will have the same physiological effect as swimming, running, walking or dancing,” says Laffel. Plus, you get the added de-stressing bonus that you actually got a chore done.
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Like running, dancing is a cardiovascular activity that gets your heart rate up and endorphins flowing. Studies have found that dancing is not only good for reducing stress, but it also may be more powerful than other exercises or meditating alone.
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Ever felt so stressed you could just punch something? You could just try kickboxing instead. Kickboxing is an excellent way to release any stress or aggravation, and it not only is a great source of cardio, but it works many muscles in the body, helping you to feel stronger both physically and mentally.
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Since much of the practice relies on focusing on your breath, pilates is a great stress manager, for both your peace of mind and also for your muscles. Like yoga, pilates puts the focus on mental concentration, which can be a great way to help you deal with stress.
Ready, set, de-stress.
Exercise: A Healthy Stress Reliever
Survey findings show that Americans spend much of their time engaged in sedentary activities — often more than three hours a day watching TV or going online. Many report turning to these activities to manage their stress. Yet people who engage in these activities to manage stress are less likely to say that the technique is effective, compared with those who engage in more physically active stress management strategies.
On average, adults report that they spend 3.9 hours a day watching TV, 3.7 hours a day going online and 3.4 hours a day sitting at a desk.
Forty-two percent of adults report going online to help manage stress and 40 percent say they watch TV or movies for more than two hours a day.
Only 29 percent of those who go online to manage stress and 33 percent of those who watch TV or movies to manage stress say these techniques are very or extremely effective. In contrast, among adults who exercise to manage stress (43 percent), 62 percent tout its effectiveness.
Adults who report the highest levels of stress in the past month (eight, nine or 10 on a 10-point scale) are less likely to say they exercise each week and more likely to say they have skipped exercise due to stress in the past month. Adults who report experiencing high stress are also more likely than adults who report experiencing low stress (one, two or three on the 10-point scale) to engage in sedentary activities for stress management.
Adults reporting high stress levels are less likely than those reporting low stress levels to say they exercise at least once weekly (54 percent vs. 64 percent). Furthermore, those who exercise less than once a week or not at all report stress levels in the past month higher than those of adults who exercise once a week or more (5.3 vs. 4.9).
Adults reporting high stress are more than four times as likely as adults reporting low stress to say they have skipped exercise in the past month due to stress (64 percent vs. 15 percent).
Adults reporting high stress are more likely to say they engage in sedentary activities to manage stress. More than half report managing their stress by going online (53 percent vs. 31 percent of those reporting low stress) and watching TV or movies for more than two hours a day (51 percent vs. 27 percent of those reporting low stress).
Adults reporting high stress levels say they spend an average of 4.4 hours a day online, compared with 3.4 hours a day for adults reporting low stress levels.
Despite the fact that they report exercising less frequently than those with low stress, adults with high stress appear to be more aware of the effect that exercise has on their stress level. Among those who exercise, 33 percent of high-stress adults said they feel less stressed after exercising, compared with 18 percent of low-stress adults.
Teens also report spending much of their time engaged in sedentary activities, yet say that exercise offers more stress relief than other techniques they use to manage stress.
Teens report spending an average of 3.4 hours a day sitting at a desk, 2.8 hours a day watching TV and 2.7 hours a day going online.
More teens than adults say their sedentary stress management techniques are effective, but they still report exercise as the most effective stress management approach. Sixty-eight percent of teens who exercise or engage in physical activity to manage stress (37 percent) say it is extremely or very effective. Comparatively, 59 percent of teens who report playing video games to manage stress, 41 percent who report going online to manage stress and 39 percent who report watching TV or movies for more than two hours a day to manage stress say these are very or extremely effective stress management techniques.
Teens who report exercising at least once weekly report an average stress level in the past month of 4.4 on a 10-point scale, compared with 5.1 among teens who report exercising less than once a week or not at all.
Even more important, teens who report exercising at least once weekly report lower average stress levels during the past school year than teens who report exercising less than once a week or not at all (5.6 vs. 6.4 on a 10-point scale).
Teens who report high stress during the past school year also report spending an average of 3.2 hours online a day, compared with two hours among those with low reported stress levels during the past school year.
Despite their fitness goals, Millennials report spending more time engaging in sedentary activities than other generations. They also spend the most time engaged in screen time to help manage stress.
Millennials report spending an average of five hours a day online, compared with 3.7 hours for Gen Xers, 3.1 hours for Boomers and 2.5 hours for Matures.
Sixty-eight percent of Millennials say they engage in screen time (including going online, watching TV or movies for more than two hours a day, playing video games and sounding off on social media) to help manage stress, compared with 64 percent of Gen Xers, 59 percent of Boomers and 54 percent of Matures.
Millennials are more likely than other generations to say they nap or sleep to relieve stress — 41 percent of Millennials report this, compared with 33 percent of Gen Xers, 29 percent of Boomers and 20 percent of Matures.