Top 10 Stress Busters
No matter what, stress is a part of life. It’s inevitable yet often manageable, annoying yet imperative. Without stress there is no focus or progression in life, yet with too much there are adverse health effects.
Seventy percent of adults experience stress or anxiety daily. The American Psychological Association reports that more people suffer from physical and emotional symptoms due to stress now than in previous years.
While exercise in general helps stress, certain exercises are better for changing neural pathways in your brain and relieving stress faster and more permanently. A Princeton University study found that “brains on exercise” developed a biomechanically calmer state of being over time when compared to those that didn’t regularly exercise.
Whereas other exercise and fitness blogs around the inter-webs will tell you delightfully mundane ways to manage stress (be positive, avoid unhealthy habits, have some me time, go for a walk…etc.), below is a comprehensive list of both why certain exercises are better, and specifically what and how to do them. To improve your biological resilience, follow these general ideas for stress and exercise to use adrenaline for stress relief and stress management.
Ways to Exercise Stress Away
In the long run, stress relief is a mental issue. The brain translates it into a physical issue. Stress management exercises such as yoga, running, Pilates, etc. have been recommended for centuries because they combine variations of mental rumination with cardio exercises.
As opposed to strength training or weight lifting, cardio exercises (and those that regularly do cardio workouts) have neurologically more efficient pathways in the brain, connecting thought and emotional processes more efficiently. These improved neural connections in the brain ultimately make stress relief and stress management easier. Brain cells respond more efficiently and, over decades, are more resilient to neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases. In general, steady increases in heart rate and increased brain function from cardio workouts are the most effective for the brain to deal with and manage stress.
Studies have also showed that the psychological benefits of indoor and outdoor exercise favor the latter. A 20-minute walk around the neighborhood is better than a 20 minute walk on the treadmill. Though most of this is purely psychological, if weather and location permits, choose the outdoors. And when you do so, leave the phone at home. The whole idea is to check out for a bit. No push notifications, emails, voicemails or hassling text messages. They’ll be there when you get back, rest assured.
10 Stress Busting Exercises
20 Minutes of Walking or Running
While studies show that 5 minutes of continuous walking essentially provides the same amount of stress relief as 20 minutes, the cardiovascular benefits of 20 minutes of walking compounds itself. If you can run steadily for 20 minutes, the same happens. Even if you cannot physically run 20 minutes, walk-run combinations will elevate your heart rate steadily and consistently while allowing your mind to focus on a problem or wander aimlessly. This pseudo-meditation discussed earlier effectively reduces stress and is low-hassle at the same time.
A total body workout involves both mind and body. Yoga’s most beneficial properties for stress management come from the emphasis put on breathing and form. If you do not have a yoga studio nearby, look up simple workouts online to do at home. Use these basic yoga moves in any order for a simple 20-30 minute workout that will elevate your heart rate, syncopate your breathing and exercise stress away: Dancing Half-Moon, Rolling Knee, Dancing Dog Prep, Plank, Water Wheel, Sitting Reed, Sitting or Standing Cow, Sitting Eagle with Forward Bend, Triangle Pose.
Perhaps the perfect combination of regulated deep breathing and full-body involvement, swimming at least 300 meters helps strengthen muscles and joints with zero impact. In the long-term, steady swim sets release stress-reducing hormones and improve mood. For easy swim sets, start out with 4 x 50 meters to warm up, followed by 2 x 200 meters or 4 x 100/200 meters, and cool down with 5 x 50 meter laps at an even pace. If that’s too easy for you, change it up!
People often forget that dancing is a legitimate form of cardio. It is also a social exercise. Surrounding yourself with positive and happy people compounds the effects of the physical exercise you’re doing. Fun classes like Salsa, Flamenco or Ballroom are available at most gyms or fitness clubs. Dancing With The Stars celebrities can vouch for the cardio benefits of any kind of dance. Whatever gets you moving and smiling will work just fine.
Combining resistance strength training with low-impact cardio sets is a great way to get your heart rate up and keep within a steady threshold, and can be done under any time constraints. A basic 20-30 minute circuit workout with 1-minute sets (to be repeated 3-5 times) looks like this:
Circuit 1: Walking Lunges or Sumo Squats
Circuit 2: Mountain Climbers or Jumping Lunges
Circuit 3: Chest press or Plank
Circuit 4: Jump Rope (Fast) or Double Stair Climb (Fast)
Circuit 5: 1-Minute Rest then Repeat
Whether at home or at a gym or spin studio, spinning is a great low-impact workout that takes your hearth through a series of intensity levels. The best thing about spinning is the zone you get into with different sets. There are many sets you can look at online, if you are not doing a class with an instructor. Here’s a basic outline:
Warm Up – 5 minutes spinning
Go Time – Increase resistance to 70-80% for 3 minutes
Go Harder – Keep the resistance the same, or higher, and pedal out of the saddle for 1 minute
Mini Cool Down – 5 minutes with 50% resistance
Repeat – Alternate standing and higher resistance each set
Cool Down – 5 minutes at 25-50% for final cool down
Known for its gentle and smooth flow, this meditative exercise is designed to increase flexibility, clear the mind and control breathing. Practicing the ancient Chinese discipline has been proven to reduce long-term stress/anxiety in people dealing with prolonged medical diagnoses such as Cancer, HIV and early-stage diagnoses of various neurological disorders.
Kickball, soccer, dodge ball, softball, basketball, volleyball, bowling (yes I said bowling) … there’s an adult league for just about anything. If you haven’t gotten the point by now, any type of cardio exercise can help reduce stress and keep you healthy, but add in a social element and certain benefits are multiplied! Most people are happy around other people. Getting involved is a great way to stay accountable to fitness. And finding friends in recreation will open you to different experiences beyond work, family and home life. For resources on adult sport or fitness leagues there are many online resources or materials at local YMCA fitness clubs.
Though this is a slightly higher impact sport than the rest on this list, it is both social and great cardio! Often played in clubs or public courts, it will increase your speed, stamina and agility while allowing you to blow off some serious steam by hitting the ball every 5 – 10 seconds. The game itself also requires a bit of skill, so your brain is constantly thinking, strategizing and adapting to new situations. These benefits carry over after the game is over.
Rock climbing, climbing a tree and hiking are all ways to overcome your stressors, literally and metaphorically. The simplest version is to hike somewhere with an overlook. The metaphor becomes reality because you have time while walking to think about stressors, or “acquire the void” and achieve some mental clarity. If you don’t have a scenic place to hike … climb a tree. Sometimes changing your perspective in your everyday surroundings is a great way to approach a problem. Climb a tree and rest at the top until you feel like coming down. Your inner child of yesteryear will high five you for it.
Ultimately stress management comes down to two factors: adrenaline or meditation. Stress relief is often found in the physical exercise that hits home, that allows your mind to disconnect and your body to run on autopilot. This Zen is ultimately what rewires your brain to manage stress more effectively. In the long run, being physically active is one of the greatest ways to consistently relieve stress and stay happier.
What are you waiting for? Go get that void, and leave everything else behind!