If you’re suffering from stress and struggling to cope you can use exercise to reduce stress. This article will teach you how to weaponise exercise and start fighting back against the 'silent killer'.
In addition, you will learn how exercise helps reduce stress and how to create an exercise routine.
But first, let’s briefly look at the ways stress has been shown to harm your health.
Stress harms your health in many ways
Stress can make life a misery and for many it does. Millions of people every day carry around with them the crushing burden of stress.
Yet people continue to put up with it. This is largely a consequence of the lack of understanding of how stress harms our health.
Contrary to common misunderstanding, stress does more than negatively impact our mood and emotions.
Emerging research shows that stress exerts a deleterious effect on both our mental and physical wellbeing.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that stress-related disorders – which include depression, anxiety, obesity and coronary heart disease – will soon ‘be the second leading cause of disabilities.’¹
However, you possess the power to stop stress from harming your health. There are many methods and techniques that you can use to arrest and slow the tide of stress. One such method is exercise.
Read on . . .
How exercise helps to reduce stress
Exercise has been shown to be a highly effective method of reducing stress.
When we workout the body releases ‘feel good’ chemicals – endorphins – which, well, make us feel good. ‘Endorphins play a role in blocking pain perception and are secreted in response to exercise,’ (Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers). It’s from this response where the term ‘runner’s high’ derives.
The positive side-effect we enjoy post-exercise can mitigate the unpleasant symptoms of stress thus offering prolonged relief.
In addition, exercise has been shown to confer many other benefits which contribute to promoting self-esteem and wellbeing. For a comprehensive insight into the associative benefits, follow the link: The 10 Benefits of Exercise.
How to use exercise to reduce stress
To keep stress at bay it is important to implement exercise as a regular habit. Once in a blue moon or during times of stress is simply not enough.
According to Dr Gregor, author of the sensational book How Not To Die, we ought to be exercising every day.²
But don’t worry! You won’t have to train like a CrossFit athlete to reap the stress-reducing rewards of exercise. Short-duration light to moderate workouts have been shown to be more than beneficial.
One simple way to habituate an exercise regime is by establishing an early morning 30-minute slow jog or evening gym circuit. By doing so you’ll not only reduce stress but also reap the many health benefits associated with exercise.
To help get you started, below you will find a simple overview of how to create, implement, and habituate an exercise routine.
The best exercise to reduce stress
In truth, there is no best exercise to reduce stress. Though some exercises have been shown to elicit positive stressbusting responses, such as the release of feel-good chemicals, it's largely down to personal preference.
Some people dislike running and the displeasure of doing it for any length of time would, for them, far outweigh the feel-good aftereffects. These people may derive more pleasure from resistance training or taking part in a circuits class.
There's an abundance of research showing that such forms of exercise exert a positive effect on reducing stress while also promoting a sense of wellbeing. Arguably, weight training and circuits classes can be even more beneficial in the battle against stress because they are often done in social settings.
Exercising with others is highly beneficial because social interaction is one of the most potent methods of mitigating stress. Furthermore, friendships are formed during group classes which in turn can improve motivation and exercise participation.
The takeaway here is if you're going to use exercise to reduce stress make sure that you start with exercises that you actually enjoy doing. And if possible, consider joining an exercise class or train with a friend.
Use exercise to reduce stress by implementing a training routine
If you’ve decided to use exercise to reduce stress, you’ve got to get into the habit of working out on a regular basis. Once a week – or month! – or year!! – is not enough.
The leading health organizations advise a minimum exercise dosage of 150-minutes a week.
The following 6 steps show you how to put together a comprehensive exercise routine that satisfies the minimum requirement.
Step 1: Begin with an exercise that you enjoy
Of course, to improve exercise participation, and maintain motivation, you’ve got to enjoy it.
Some people love running, others consider it a form of purgatory. Some people love circuits classes, while others prefer gym workouts.
If you’re not sure about your exercise preference yet, you need to find out and begin there. This way you’ll more likely keep up your training routine.
Step 2: Find time in the day for your workout
Once you’ve identified your preferred mode of exercising, you now need to consider how much time you can allocate to a daily workout.
It is best to start off with short sessions – between 15- to 30-minutes. Shorter workouts are easier to accommodate and are less daunting for the beginner.
At this stage set your sights low and settle on a 20-minute workout consisting of a slow jog around your local park. Now you need to decide at what time of the day you plan to complete your jog.
Personally, I prefer early morning training. At 5 am I get up, work through my 10-minute Yoga routine, and then go out for a super-slow 4-mile jog.
If you can muster self-discipline exercising in the morning is beneficial for two reasons. The first is that it’s a great way to greet the day; a morning run is both reinvigorating and energising.
Secondly, exercising early reduces the chances of one of life’s many responsibilities encroaching on your training time. How many of us started the day with the good intentions to exercise but couldn’t because something came up?
Well, unsurprisingly, few things come up at 5 am. The one takeaway from Step 2 is when you’ve decided on a time, stick with it!
Step 3: Decide the frequency of your workout routine
Having settled on your preferred exercise and duration of each workout, you can go ahead and decide on your weekly frequency; that is, how many times a week you are going to exercise for.
As I said above, the optimal number of weekly workouts is seven. However, being realistic, for some people, especially beginners, that’s too much of a commitment.
So, with that said, YOU decide how many days you can commit to your workout routine. If it’s only two days, well, that is infinitely better than no days.
And when you’ve taken that first step, which is always the hardest, you’ll be able to increase your workouts as you develop both your fitness and confidence.
Step 4: Workout programme length
You’re now ready to choose the length of your initial training programme. Instead of just trying to maintain training consistency, it’s best practice to produce a simple plan to follow.
A training programme is very similar to a to-do list – and to-do lists are one of the best methods for increasing productivity.
However, whereas a to-do list consists of jobs and chores, a training programme consists of workouts.
As exercise interventions go, training programmes have yielded some of the best results for increasing motivation and participation.
Step 5: How to create your workout programme
Creating a training programme is relatively straightforward. You can produce one on a Word document in a few minutes. Alternatively, you can follow the link below and access a ready-made programme – completely free.
Some advice with your training programme design.
Firstly, avoid getting overconfident and inputting too many workouts. I know that sounds contradictory, but if you make your programme too hard, you’ll likely quit.
Secondly, ensure to include rest days. Rest is important because it facilitates recovery and reduces repetitive injury susceptibility.
Thirdly, produce your programme in A3 and print it off. It would be a mistake to leave your programme on your computer. It needs to be visible so as to act as a constant reminder. That takes us nicely to our final point:
Fourthly, place your programme somewhere conspicuous such as your fridge door, or the wall behind your bed. For the programme to be effective it not only needs to be well-produced, but it also needs to be VISIBLE!
Step 6: Training programme recap
Before we move on to the final Tip, let’s quickly recap on our progress thus far. At this point, you should have
Selected a type of exercise that you like, but preferably identified a variety of exercises so that you can mix and match your training methodologies.
Decided how long your workouts will last. Remember, if you’re a complete beginner, opt for short workouts of between 15- to 30-minutes.
Settled on a weekly workout frequency – that is, how many times you are going to exercise in a week. Again, if you are a beginner start with two sessions and increase by one every other week.
Chosen the duration of your programme. Are you going to go for a 6, 8, 10 or 12-week training programme?
If you can tick all four points on the above list, you’re now ready to put pen to paper and start creating your own training plan. Alternatively, follow the link below and access a free training programme:
Hungry4Fitness 8-Week Training Programme
Step 7: Action your training programme ASAP!
Well done for having reached this far!
You’re now at the final step.
There’s only one more thing left to do. That’s it, you guessed it, implement your training programme and start using exercise to reduce stress.
Stress is detrimental to your health. If left unchecked, it could lead to long-term health problems. It’s for this reason, and many more besides, why you’ve got to take action and fight back.
As we discussed above, exercise is an effective method of mitigating and managing stress. Additionally, exercise promotes many other positive health outcomes as well.
This article has provided you with the knowledge and access to the tools that you can use to manage stress.
The regime that you create and implement will help you control stress while also improving your general fitness.
All that’s left is for you to put into practice the preceding Steps.
¹ WHO ‘stress-related disorders – which include depression, anxiety and obesity – will soon ‘be the second leading cause of disabilities’ Metabolism Journal – (2002).
² Greger, M. Stone, G (2017) How Not to Die. USA. Macmillan.