Best Workouts to Beat Stress

Everyone experiences stress from time to time, but what happens when it becomes your daily norm? Chronic stress is consistent over time and leaves your system vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other life-threatening health conditions. It can even help with stress from addiction. There are many ways to combat stress, and routine exercise is one of the most effective.

The question is what types of exercise are best for combating stress? Anything is better than nothing, but there are six options that are backed by science and highly recommended by health professionals.

  1. Walking

This is first on the list because it’s one of the simplest and most accessible forms of exercise. It’s also incredibly effective at combating stress, so it’s great if you believe in working smarter, not harder.

Research has proven that brisk walking is just as effective as meditation at improving mood. You don’t need a gym membership or large blocks of time to make it work. Even short walks can get those endorphins flowing and combat the negative impact of stress on your body and mind.

Here are a few quick tips to make walking work as stress relief for you:

  • Start with short walks on flat, even terrain. You can build up to longer, more intense walks if you enjoy the activity. It should feel relaxing, not overwhelming.
  • Try to keep a brisk pace, even if you have to start out walking fast for 30 seconds and then slowing down for a minute or two. With time, you’ll pick up the pace and extend those fast intervals for more effective results.
  • Try to walk at the same time each day. It will become routine, resulting in fewer missed sessions.
  1. Tai Chi

Tai chi is different from most other forms of martial arts. It’s a self-paced practice that involves slow movements that flow into one another in a smooth, soothing sequence. Each move mimics the behavior and personality of an animal and is performed with great mental focus and controlled breathing.

This is a low-impact exercise that is often recommended for people who are out of shape or have limited range of motion. It’s also used by super fit athletes for the stress-relieving, calming benefits. You can expect to see improvements in balance and flexibility as well as coordination and mental focus with routine practice.

Due to the meditative movements that are just as beneficial for the mind as the body, tai chi is often used to help treat mental illness. Studies have found the practice an effective remedy for tension headaches as well as arthritis, depression, and many other health conditions.

One study reported in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research in 1992 found that brisk walking and tai chi were both effective at relieving stress, but tai chi was more effective at reducing anxiety and enhancing vigor.

There are a few tips that will help you maximize the benefits of tai chi:

  • Focus on the movement, not everything else going on in your life. Use it as a break from the stress of daily life, controlling your breath to sync with the movement.
  • Don’t get discouraged if you find some movements challenging. This is a slow movement art form, but it will ask your body to move in new ways.
  1. Swimming

When close to 1,200 swimmers aged 16 to 45 were asked about their personal experiences with swimming, more than 70% said swimming relieves stress. 70% also reported feeling refreshed mentally after swimming. That’s in line with research that has shown swimming improves blood flow to the brain, which can help reverse brain damage caused by stress.

Just being in water can help you release tension that has built up for days, weeks, or even years. It can provide a massage-like experience and soothe your body and mind.

A couple of tips to get your water time started:

  • You don’t need formal lessons or professional swim training to ease stress with swimming. Any time you spend moving through water will help.
  • Start by playing in a pool with your family or swimming in the designated lanes at your local YMCA or community pool. You can gradually improve your swimming skills and time spent in the water.
  • Look for a pool or lake with a lifeguard on duty and don’t swim out too deep at first. It’s better to be safe than risk drowning. 
  1. Dance

There’s a reason Zumba has caught on around the world. One small study published in the International Journal of Scientific Development and Research in 2019 found that three weeks of Zumba training significantly reduced stress levels for a group of 30 college students.

Similar results were found in another study that showed remarkable improvements in mental and physical health for middle-aged, sedentary women after 16 weeks of Zumba.

So, what makes Zumba so effective at beating stress?

It all comes down to the magic of dancing in general. Not only does it relieve stress and anxiety, but it’s one form of exercise that most people are likely to perform consistently over time because it’s also fun.

Ready for some quick tips to make Zumba or another form of dance exercise work for you?

  • Attend at least five dance fitness classes before you decide it’s not for you. Most people feel awkward at first but fall in love with dance after three to five classes.
  • You don’t need professional training or stunning moves to enjoy dance classes like Zumba. The instructors are trained to teach you through movement. You will pick up the moves with time.
  • If you don’t like one instructor’s style, attend another class with a different instructor. There are many dance styles and experiences in the dance fitness world.
  1. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High-intensity interval training is any exercise that rotates between bursts of high-intensity movement and periods of low-intensity work. The easiest way to do that is to speed walk or jog for a period of time and then walk for a period of time. Repeat that pattern for 30 minutes or longer.

In 2021, Frontiers in Psychology published results from a study that challenged 67 adults to participate in HIIT or moderate-intensity training (MIT) at home for six weeks while in confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The results showed both forms of exercise were effective at relieving stress, anxiety, and depression, but HIIT was the most effective.

How do you get started with HIIT? These tips should help:

  • Pick a low-intensity exercise and high-intensity exercise that you can smoothly transition between throughout the workout. Walking and jogging work well, but you can also use burpees and other strength training moves for your high intensity move.
  • Keep your high-intensity bursts short at first. The goal is to improve over time, keeping the workout challenging but enjoyable and not overwhelming.
  • Check out the Couch to 5K program for guided improvement. There’s an app now!
  1. Yoga

There are countless studies that prove regular yoga practice can reduce stress and ease anxiety. In fact, the research has moved on to the study of how yoga relieves stress. From Kundalini and Ashtanga to Vinyasa and Bikram, there are many forms of yoga in practice. That gives you a lot of options when finding the right form for your personality and lifestyle.

Check out some tips to get started with yoga:

  • Routine practice is required for maximum health benefits. Even if it’s challenging at first, keep going until it becomes a part of your daily routine.
  • Select beginner workouts at first. Even if you’re in great physical shape, advanced yoga poses are challenging and are sometimes dangerous without proper form.

Picking the Right Exercise for Stress Relief

If you’re overwhelmed by all of these options, pick just one type of stress-busting exercise and give it a try for one month. You can always switch to something different or add a second form later. Getting started and moving your body daily is what really matters.

 

Sources

nimh.nih.gov – 5 Things You Should Know About Stress

sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – The Benefits of Exercise and Recovery

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Experimental Effects of Brief, Single Bouts of Walking And Meditation on Mood Profile in Young Adults

health.harvard.edu – The Health Benefits of Tai Chi

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov– Tai Chi and Qigong for the Treatment and Prevention of Mental Disorders

frontiersin.org – Treating Depression With Tai Chi: State of the Art and Future Perspectives

sciencedirect.com-Efficacy of Tai Chi, brisk walking, meditation, and reading in reducing mental and emotional stress

 

usms.org – 4 Reasons Why Swimming is Great for Mental Health

swimmingworldmagazine.com– Go for a Swim for these 6 Mental Health Benefits

ijsdr.org – Impact of Zumba Training in Stress Management Among Students

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Dance Fitness Classes Improve the Health-Related Quality of Life in Sedentary Women

thefriendshipbench.org – Dancing Reduces Anxiety and Depression in Students

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov– Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training and Moderate-Intensity Training on Stress, Depression, Anxiety, and Resilience in Healthy Adults During Coronavirus Disease 2019 Confinement: A Randomized Controlled Trial

apps.apple.com– Couch to 5K – Run Training

onlinelibrary.wiley.com– How does yoga reduce stress? A clinical trial testing

psychological mechanisms