Of all the ways to manage stress out there, incorporating physical activity in your daily life is one the most popular. Not only does physical activity exercise the body, but the mind as well. This guide will discuss everything you need to know to get started using physical activity as an effective stress relief method!
The Science Behind Why It Works – The Mind-Body Connection
The benefits of physical fitness and activity have long been established, but we’ll lay it out here for you with a brief summary. Not only does exercise clearly improve your physical condition, but it can also help fight diseases and other afflictions including stress. This is in part because when stress affects brain (i.e. you are constantly worrying and thinking about stressful things), the rest of the body feels the impact as well. This is simply due to our brain having so many nerve connections, meaning stress and the rest of our body are intertwined more than we may realize. Our other article already lays out how stress can affect your health, and the same reasoning applies there. But because there is such a strong connection to stress and the way your body is feeling, actually improving how your body feels will improve how your mind feels as well!
Physical activity naturally produces endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers. As a result, your body will make you feel energized and healthy – basically the opposite how stress makes you feel. In this sense, physical activity is a natural way to combat the negative energies brought about by stress. This fact is confirmed and validated in scientific studies. In fact over 80% of people feel less stressed not just immediately after a workout, but long after the workout ends!
Exercising improves cognitive functionality
By exercising on a regular basis, you can also improve your general cognitive functionality, which also helps stress in different ways. One thing that exercising will improve is your general alertness. This can act as a naturally counter to when stress depletes your energy and/or will to get anything done. Exercising can also improve your concentration skills. This is definitely helpful to fight against stress that causes you to lose concentration at work!
As you can see, exercising has so many physical, mental and psychological benefits that extend far beyond just reducing stress in your life!
So How do you do it?
To ensure that your physical activity is enough for you to actually start seeing changes in your mood and behavior (i.e. less stress), you need to make sure that first and foremost your exercise occurs on a regular basis. At least 3 times a week is a good starting point, but if you really want to feel the benefits, you should try to exercise even more often than that. The key is to do whatever you can manage and whatever you can maintain doing in the long run.
Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Exercise
Another key factor when selecting what physical activity to do is whether or not the activity is aerobic or anaerobic. Aerobic is when you are constantly moving and hold a constant increased heartrate. Things like running and swimming are all aerobic activities. On the other hand anaerobic activities, while still forms of physical fitness, involve increased heartrate only in spurts. Things like playing American football or Tennis are anaerobic because in between “plays” you cease physical activity for a few seconds.
Aerobic Exercise is the preferred exercise from a physical standpoint, simply because your body is working harder and longer, meaning your mind gets more benefit. However, in order to maintain a long-term fitness plan, you need to make sure that you are doing something that brings you joy. You do not want to start exercising and get bored of it a few weeks down the road. Sports are a great example of fun exercises that you can do on a long term basis without getting board. This is especially true of team sports, which allow you to have social interactions as well.
To summarize, although aerobic exercise is the ideal choice from a physical standpoint, there is nothing wrong with selecting an anaerobic exercise if it is more fun and enjoyable for you. You could even mix up your exercises between aerobic and anaerobic! The key though again is to make sure you actually go out and do it, and do it on a consistent basis!
Make sure your diet and sleep match your activity levels
For those of you who currently don’t do any physical activity, note that suddenly adding all of this intense aerobic exercise will inevitably affect the rest of your lifestyle. In order to sustain such intense activity without getting sick in the process, you will need to eat slightly more to cover the calories that you are burning. However, if you also want to lose some weight in the process, make sure you set your diet to maintain a slight caloric deficit to slowly burn fat over time. You may also need to sleep slightly more as well, otherwise physical fatigue may start setting in (note that this is different from stress-related fatigue!).
Be ready to put in the work and effort
Although exercising is a great way to eliminate stress, it isn’t necessarily easy. You need to be absolutely committed to putting in the work and exercising consistently. And you need to make sure that you are actually putting in the effort to get that heart rate up, rather than just going through the motions, which will do nothing other than waste your time when you could be doing something more productive. To put it simply, exercising, regardless of if you are using it to reduce stress or for something else, is a lifestyle choice. Making it a priority is the only way to ensure that you reap the many rewards!
Physical Activity helps with stress… and More!
If you primarily want to use physical activity to reduce stress in your life, then good for you! But in reality, such activity has been found to not only decrease overall levels of stress, but in general help elevate and stabilize your mood, improve sleep, and also improve self-esteem. And that is not even mentioning the physical and cosmetic benefits of looking better through exercise that we all know and love! Follow the tips in this guide and you will be well on your way to not just reducing stress in your life, but improving your life as a whole! As long as you are ready to put in lots of hard work, you’ll see the results. Good luck!