In today’s fast-paced world, most people have become accustomed to having some level of stress in their lives. The impact of stress can vary from person to person, but it can manifest in both mental and physical ways. Stress can make you feel drained, anxious, or depressed, and from a physical perspective, it can cause muscle aches, panic attacks, heart issues, nausea, among other things.
With so many health risks associated with stress, it’s crucial to have strategies to minimize and manage your stress. Mindfulness, meditation, and reframing strategies are all effective methods in combatting stress. But a method that doesn’t immediately come to mind for most people, is regular exercise. Exercise can be a powerful tool for managing stress, improving mental well-being, and leading you towards a healthier, happier life.
How It Works
Exercising causes the brain to release endorphins, chemicals that ease pain and produce a sense of comfort and euphoria. It also encourages the nerve cells in the brain to secrete other neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. You may have heard of the term ‘runner’s high’, this is a reference to endorphins released during running. But if running is not your preferred form of exercise, don’t worry, most exercises can trigger the release of endorphins so you can participate in other exercises and still experience the benefits of endorphins. Endorphins have been show to decrease stress and anxiety, and can also reduce the symptoms of depression.
Stress can have a big impact on the quality of your sleep. When stressed, bodies release cortisol, which can disrupt your normal patterns of sleep. It can then be a vicious cycle: stress can cause you to sleep less, and then when you don’t get enough sleep, it can contribute to increased levels of stress and anxiety.
Exercise, however, has been shown to have a positive impact on sleep patterns. In addition to the endorphins released by exercise that make it easier to be in a state of relaxation, exercising has been shown to improve the quality of sleep, and make it easier to fall asleep as well. Exercising regularly can help you establish healthy sleep habits that can then, in turn, help you to decrease your overall stress level.
Finally, exercise helps you take time for yourself. In the midst of our busy lives, it’s easy to become consumed by work, family, and countless responsibilities, leaving little room for self-care. When you prioritize exercise, whether it’s a morning jog, an evening yoga session, or a midday weightlifting routine, you are carving out dedicated time to focus on your well-being. This time dedicated to just you, allows you to temporarily detach from stressors, giving your mind a break and an opportunity to recharge. It’s a chance to clear your thoughts, practice mindfulness, and foster a sense of inner peace, all of which contribute to a healthier, more resilient mindset in the face of stress.
Building Your Routine
It’s important to be build exercise into your daily life in a way that is both sustainable and enjoyable. Sustainability ensures that your fitness routine becomes a lasting habit rather than a short-lived burst of motivation, and you’ll find it easier to reduce stress, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and achieve your fitness goals with consistency and satisfaction.
Choosing your activities
Almost any exercise can provide stress relief, but the following guidelines can help you find those likely to be more effective for you. Choose an exercise you enjoy. The kinds of activities you choose depend on your physical ability as well as your preferences.
It’s important to choose activities that are accessible and feasible for you to do regularly. You’ll also want to consider if you want to play competitive sports, such as basketball or tennis, or if you’d rather do noncompetitive activities, such as walking, bicycling, or taking an aerobics class.
According to the CDC’s current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, the recommendations for exercise are as follows:
Key Guidelines for Adults
- Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefts.
- For substantial health benefts, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
- Additional health benefts are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
- Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefts.
Guidelines for Older Adults – The key guidelines for adults also apply to older adults. In addition, the following key guidelines are just for older adults:
- As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults should do multicomponent physical activity that includes balance training as well as aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. • Older adults should determine their level of effort for physical activity relative to their level of ftness.
- Older adults with chronic conditions should understand whether and how their conditions affect their ability to do regular physical activity safely.
- When older adults cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week because of chronic conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.
Schedule your time
Scheduling your time is very important when it comes to building a fitness routine. In our increasingly hectic lives, it’s easy for exercise to take a backseat to other commitments. By setting aside time in your daily or weekly schedule for physical activity, you’re making a commitment to your well-being. This ensures that exercise becomes a non-negotiable part of your routine, just like any other essential task.
A structured schedule can also help you proactively manage stress by creating a predictable and reliable outlet for physical and mental relief. When you have designated exercise sessions, the session can provide a break in your day as a healthy escape and a chance to refocus your mind. Ultimately, scheduling your time for fitness not only enhances your stress management strategy but also helps you achieve your health and wellness goals.
Get an Accountability Buddy
An accountability buddy is a partner who helps ensure that you stick to your exercise routine and fitness goals. Having an accountability buddy can be a game-changer when it comes to building an exercise routine. This partner, whether it’s a friend, family member, or a coach, offers support, motivation, and encouragement. When another individual expects you to show up for a workout, provide a check-in, or a post-workout update, it can be a powerful incentive to stay consistent because it adds an element of responsibility to your fitness routine and helps keep you on track, even when your motivation wanes.
Having an accountability buddy can also make your fitness routine more fun, because it provides a sense of camaraderie. Ultimately, having someone to share your successes and challenges with can make the journey toward stress reduction and improved well-being a more rewarding and sustainable experience.
Managing stress is an ongoing journey. Building a fitness routine can help many people in reducing their stress levels, but if you are finding that you need more support, don’t hesitate to explore the resources available to you through your EAP.