How to use exercise to relieve stress

Stress is a constant and familiar part of life, but the holidays have a way of exacerbating it. No matter the time of year, worries about social activities, loved ones, health, work, and any other issues can add up.

Fortunately, stress relief is available through physical and mental exercise. To help you get started, here are a few tips.

Start Slow

When it comes to physical exercise, starting slow can help you avoid overexerting yourself while still giving you benefits. You don’t need to go too far out of your comfort zone when picking activities.

“Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “If you’re not an athlete, or even if you’re out of shape, you can still make a little exercise go a long way toward stress management.”

Pick a low-impact exercise, such as walking, biking, or swimming. Whatever you choose, don’t worry about rushing to join a gym. For example, you can walk around your neighborhood with your dog, bike to a friend’s house, stretch along to an online yoga video, or do body-weight exercises that don’t require equipment, such as pushups.

While you should work toward doing 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of intense aerobic exercise every week, remember that any amount of exercise is better than nothing, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Try Exercises Ideal for Older Adults

Older adults often need to exercise differently than young people. While workouts that focus on cardiovascular health and endurance are still important, high-impact exercises are hard on older joints and muscles. That includes activities like jogging, jumping jacks, fast-paced competitive sports, and anything else that involves both feet leaving the ground.

Low-impact exercises provide many benefits, according to WebMD:

  • Walking builds stamina, strengthens muscles, and fights bone disease.
  • Golfing is a physical and mental game that requires walking, moving your entire body when you swing, and focusing.
  • Tennis and other racquet sports build stamina and bone strength. Playing doubles can lower the impact and add a social aspect to your exercise session.
  • Swimming builds muscle and endurance.
  • Yoga and tai chi combine balance and muscle training with meditation.
  • Balance exercises can help prevent falls. Options include leg lunges, toe stands, bicep curls, heel-toe walking, and single-leg stands.
  • Pelvic-floor exercises improve bladder control.

Once you feel comfortable with lower-impact activities, you can work your way up to jogging, dancing, or weight training to increase your endurance and muscle mass.

Because your goal is to decrease rather than increase stress, respect your limits. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, you should stop immediately if you experience chest pain or pressure, dizziness, or shortness of breath. Talk to your doctor about problems that don’t go away, such as joint swelling, infections, sores that don’t heal, or hernias.

A young woman smiling while performing poses, enjoying her yoga class.

Photo – Getty Images

Be Mindful

Beyond physical exercise, mental exercise is an essential part of stress relief.

“Psychologists have found that mindfulness meditation changes our brain and biology in positive ways, improving mental and physical health,” according to the American Psychological Association.

You can practice mindfulness by focusing on your breathing or environment or take it a step further by following a guided meditation. Consider trying any of these suggestions from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Pay attention. For example, experience your environment with your senses by focusing on the smell and taste of a favorite food.
  • Live in the moment. Be open and accepting as you go about your day, and find joy in simple pleasures.
  • Sit and focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body.
  • Meditate as you lie down, sit, or walk. If your mind wanders, return your attention to your breathing.

No matter what exercises you add to your life during the holiday season and afterward, mix it up if you get bored. You’re more likely to exercise your body and mind if you enjoy yourself, so keep what you like, and don’t be afraid to try new things.

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