Why Exercise Can Be the Most Effective Way to Relieve Stress

Do you exercise to relieve stress? Good for you! Only 40 percent of Canadians use fitness to cope with stress, despite it being a proven coping mechanism. Here, an expert weighs in on the best stress-busting workouts to try.

Exercise is a great coping mechanism. Everyone uses coping strategies for stress, whether consciously or not, but most of them are unhealthy. Think about it: Whether you’re plunking your-self down in front of Netflix with a bag of chips (learn more about stress eating), going for three too many beers with friends or engaging in some retail therapy, you’re trying to accomplish the same goal of unwinding. But here’s the thing about exercising: It actually works.

When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins – otherwise known as “happy hormones” – which give you feelings of well-being and euphoria after exercise. When your body eventually adapts to your workout of choice, you need to pick out training routines that are varied to create a new stimulus. However, once your body gets into this routine, you actually produce less stress hormones, too. And, what’s more, it’s meditative. Whether you’re engaging in mind-body exercises or simply focusing on something other than your problems, it helps change your mindset. And the kicker? Exercise improves the quality of your sleep, which helps your body cope with stress, too. (See what happens to your body when you’re stressed.)

But the reason why your friends might de-stress with a bottle of Chardonnay rather than a HIIT class is that it can feel like another item on that ever-growing, stress-inducing to-do list. And this is where the secret lies to finding the best workout to bust stress: Find something that doesn’t feel like another chore.

Figure out which workout you actually like to do and turn that into your stress reliever. Some people gravitate toward yoga for the de-stressing effect of movement with mindfulness, while others opt for long-distance cardio, like running or cycling, to get into the zone and clear their minds. Personally, I enjoy a good bike ride, followed by about 20 minutes of calisthenics exercises. It boosts my mood and leaves me feeling rejuvenated and better able to deal with all the stressful day-to-day stuff that comes out of left field.

Whatever activity you choose, make sure to focus. Think about what you’re looking to achieve, whether it’s increasing lean muscle tissue or achieving a personal best for your next race. The focus you place on your workouts will distract you from other stressors. My wife has become an expert in kettlebell training, and knowing that her workouts make her muscles and bones stronger and more resilient reduces her stress levels.

The bonus to making a workout your antidote to stress? You’ll gain confidence to deal with what’s really bogging you down, whether it’s from seeing your muscles in the mirror, knowing you have the solution to a bad day in your pocket or simply having more energy to deal with stress in the first place.

Peter Levidis is a certified athletic therapist sportspecialists.ca. Follow him at @sportspecialists.

Next, learn the symptoms you didn’t know were linked to stress.

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Originally Published in Best Health Canada