Doctors, researchers and sports trainers agree – exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your stress. Why does exercise make you feel so good?
Physical activity turns on chemicals in the brain called endorphins, which act like organic painkillers, relaxers and sleep aids. You make more of these feel-good neurotransmitters when you exercise, when you get a massage, even when you meditate or breathe deeply. It’s your body’s natural stress reducer.
Exercise helps you stay sharp mentally, reduces fatigue, and makes you think better overall. And it doesn’t require all-out intense exercise to reap significant rewards – a routine as simple as three to five thirty-minute workouts each week is generally enough to stay at a reasonable level of fitness.
But you can reduce your stress with a lot less exercise than that – some scientists have found that as little as five minutes of aerobic exercise kicks your anti-anxiety machinery into gear, decreasing tension, improving mood, and building self-esteem.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that seven out of ten American adults report feeling stress daily, and most say that it has a significant negative effect on their lives.
Imagine how much positive energy could be created if many or most of that 70% included a little exercise in their daily routine! Handling stress is a key to successful, healthy living, so let’s spread the word – take good care of your body, and it will take good care of you!
Five Tips To Building a Successful Exercise Program
If you want to exercise and get the most out of it, consider why you want to exercise. What is your purpose? Is it fitness and wellness? Is it about weight reduction or management? Or maybe it’s for stress reduction – but whatever your purpose, you must keep it in mind when you are developing the habit of exercise. Begin with the end in mind – think about what you want to accomplish, and concentrate your attention on moving toward that outcome.
The Mayo Clinic says that “exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever.” Some people like strength and resistance exercises like weight-lifting or running, others like smooth and subtle movements like yoga or Tai Chi.
But whatever style of exercise you choose, it’s likely to help you handle the stresses of your life better. Here are five guidelines on setting up an appropriate exercise program for yourself and your family.
1. Start at your level. It makes no sense to start too fast – it won’t get you there any quicker, and risks injury, exhaustion or frustration. If you are already somewhat fit, begin your chosen exercise with patience as well as enthusiasm – pace yourself.
If you have not or someone in your family has not exercised much recently, it’s essential to start very slowly. In fact, you may want to consult your family doctor of chiropractic, medical doctor or personal trainer, someone knowledgeable on the subject, for some advice on the appropriate exercises, intensity, or length of sessions.
The Department of Health and Human Services suggests 150 minutes each week of moderate exercise like walking or swimming, or 75 minutes of intense exercise like running, plus two strength and resistance workouts, like weightlifting or stretching therapy bands.
But the right exercise program for you is the one you’re willing to do, and also matches up with your current condition and goals.
2. Commit to a schedule. Look at your weekly calendar, and decide where the natural windows are available for inserting your exercise sessions. If you are going to exercise three, four, five days a week or more, you may want to pick a time of day, like early morning or late afternoon.
Or, if your schedule varies from day to day, you’ll need to patch exercise sessions into whatever slot will accommodate you – but if you’re serious about exercise, especially as a stress reducer, you’ll need to arrange your week accordingly.
3. Enjoy yourself. Since almost any exercise will turn on your endorphins, reducing your stress and making you feel better, choose something you like doing, so you want to do it. Until you make it a habit, you’ll have to overcome the natural inertia that’s left over from your pre-exercise days. If you pick something you get pleasure from, like walking on the beach, playing a favorite sport, riding a bike, or practicing martial arts, as just a few examples, it’s more likely that you make them part of your lifestyle instead of just something that you force yourself to do.
4. Persist until the new habit is established. Conditioning a new behavior may take weeks or even months – that’s why it’s so important to decide on a schedule and commit to it, and to pick something you like doing. You’re creating new patterns of activity for yourself, which build muscle and give your brain more to work with, so you become not only healthier, but better in every way.
5. Choose targets. Keep track of your accomplishments, and aim for the next level of achievement, as it fits your objectives. Find ways to measure or calibrate your success – weights, times, repetitions, pounds lost, or whatever works for you. Charting your progress is fun and productive, and keeps you growing and moving forward.
Some people like to exercise on their own, while others like to have a buddy or accountability partner. Some like to do the same routine for years, while others prefer to change up their exercise program, daily, weekly, monthly or seasonally. Some like vigorous activity, others prefer something more mellow and meditative – but that’s the beauty of exercise. No matter what exercise you do, it will help you unwind, ease your stress and make you feel better overall.
Exercise, A Family Affair
Some families have a tradition of being sports fans, and some do not. Some relate to certain hobbies, like weightlifting or skiing, and some don’t. But whatever your past experiences, finding ways to exercise together as a family is great fun and creates a healthier lifestyle in your home.
Kicking a soccer ball around, playing catch with a football or a baseball, jumping rope or shooting baskets can lead to great family amusement. But it can be even more casual – riding bicycles, walking, swimming or yoga are enjoyable and productive for young and old alike.
If there’s a wide distance between the levels of fitness of some family members, you’ll have to adapt to the lowest common denominator, and find ways to make it work – or, pick activities where the match between participants is better.
For example, a walk on a trail through the woods or on a beach is a family activity that most would be able to do. Besides the wonderful fresh air, filled with electrically charged particles that make you feel fabulous, you also get your body moving, which creates feel-good chemicals that make your brain happy.
Family exercise also dispels family tensions – if there’s stress at the dinner table, let everyone take a walk around the block together and see how quickly things cool down.
You can golf together, jog together, do martial arts together, dance together – there’s no end to the number of creative, fun and entertaining activities you can do as a family, reducing stress, building memories and making everyone feel better overall.
By the way, for some people friends are a perfect substitute for family when it comes to exercise – if you build community and accountability, and you hang out with people you love, it will become part of your lifestyle and you’ll always enjoy more fitness and wellness and less stress. It’s just a better quality of life.