What Exercises Relieve Stress?

A step-by-step guide to a stress-reducing workout plan that works for you

Exercise is clinically proven to relieve stress: It increases your brain's production of feel-good endorphins, elevates your mood and pushes your focus away from anxieties and problems. Any type of exercise can help combat stress, but some types are even better stress-relievers than others. Here's a step-by-step approach to exercise stress away.

Consult your doctor

Tell your doctor you're planning to begin an exercise program, especially if you have any history of heart problems. Your doctor may want to give you an exercise stress test, which will measure your heart rate as you exert energy (usually on a treadmill). This lets your doctor recommend exercises appropriate to your condition.

Stick to a program

Create an exercise schedule for yourself and plan to follow it. For many people, it helps to have an exercise buddy — someone you can count on to drag you out of bed in the morning (and who can count on you.) Joining a gym is also smart — you're more likely to exercise if you're paying for membership.

Choose exercises to relax away stress

Yoga, t'ai chi and qigong are all excellent exercises to relieve stress. If you're new to yoga, choose a type that focuses on breathing and stretching, like Hatha yoga, as opposed to one that pushes your body to the limit, like Bikram yoga.

T'ai chi and qigong are traditional Chinese movement exercises that focus on improving balance, endurance and mental well-being. Sign up for regular classes, or find a good video to exercise away stress at home, such as AM/PM Tai Chi, Tai Chi Beginning Practice, Qigong: Traditional Chinese Exercises or Energy Balance Yoga with Rodney Yee.

Choose anti-stress exercises that elevate your heart rate

Along with meditative exercises, work some vigorous exercise into your routine. When your body works hard, it produces more endorphins, giving you a natural high. Good choices for vigorous stress-busting exercise include:

  • Running
  • Speed-walking
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Roller-blading
  • Active team sports, like soccer and tennis

Get outside

Just being out in nature can uplift your mood. For many people, the effects of a long, pleasant weekend walk can last well into the workweek. Explore hiking trails in your area, or take your treadmill or gym track walking or jogging routine outside. After your workout, take a moment to stand still and breathe the fresh air.

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