How to Reduce Stress and Anxiety with Exercise

How to reduce stress and anxiety

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

Staying at home on the couch is one of the most damaging things that you can do to your body.

The body is meant to move. A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease and many other risks.

It is extremely important to exercise for your basic health. Exercise can also reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.

In this article I will show you how to reduce stress and anxiety with exercise, specifically cardiovascular exercise, weight training, yoga and pilates.

I have also included both a yoga and pilates video in this post so that you can start experiencing the benefits of exercise today.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Consult a medical professional before beginning an exercise program. Read my full disclaimer here.

How to reduce stress and anxiety Stress and anxiety are a problem for many people today. People often feel stressed because they have responsibilities from work, home, and the people around them.

These responsibilities can feel like they have no end and can eventually become overwhelming without balance. When people feel anxious, they are experiencing a great deal of apprehension about a real or imagined event.

For example, many people are anxious about public speaking. The anxiety is understandable- no one wants to look bad in front of a group of people.

However, the anxiety does not serve you and may even prevent you from making a good presentation. It is important to learn how to manage stress and anxiety because it does not serve to help you deal with your problems.

One good way to combat stress and anxiety is to exercise. When we are anxious or stressed out we experience the fight or flight response. In the distant past, people had to defend themselves from predators.

The way they responded to these predators meant the difference between life or death. For the best chance of survival, in threatening situations, the body releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol in preparation to fight or run away. Energy builds up in the body so that you have your best chance of getting away from the danger.

In modern times, we are rarely threatened by predators, but we still have the same fight or flight response to our stressors. We have an incredible build up of nervous energy that we often never release. This is one reason why it is so important to exercise- it can serve as an outlet from the tension and anxiety that stress creates in us.

How Long Should You Exercise To Reduce Stress?

The Mayo Clinic recommends that people exercise for about 30 minutes a day. Some people worry that they may not be healthy enough to exercise for 30 minutes straight.

It is very important to take your current physical fitness into account before you begin any exercise program. If you are out of breath after climbing up a flight of stairs or walking a block, your current level of physical fitness is likely low.

If you suspect that your physical fitness is low, you should talk to a doctor before you begin exercising to make sure that it is safe. If it has been a while since you have exercised, it is important to start slow. If you start too quickly, you could potentially injure yourself or you could end up extremely sore from too much exercise and become discouraged.

It is better to start off walking for 5-10 minutes than jogging for 20 minutes. 5 minutes may not seem like a lot, but you are building up the habit of exercise and beginning to condition your body for more.

how to reduce stress and anxiety

Reduce Stress With Exercise: Great Exercises for Stress Reduction

Aerobic exercises

Cardiovascular exercises are excellent at reducing stress, anxiety and elevating your mood.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, only 5 minutes of aerobic exercise can decrease tension, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. There are a variety of cardiovascular exercises that you can do.

Running is a fantastic exercise for stress and you don’t need equipment besides a pair of tennis shoes. Running can also be very social if you choose to find a running group. It can be good for your self esteem as you notice how you get better and better at it. The downside of running is that it can be hard on the body, especially your joints and heart. It is very important to listen to your body to prevent injuries.

Walking is also great. Like running, it is easy to get started because you don’t need to buy equipment. You just need shoes and a good place to walk. It is less harsh on the body than running and still has many mental and physical benefits.

how to reduce stress and anxiety

Walking is a great stress relief activity. Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash

Swimming is one of my personal favorite ways to exercise. It may be a little bit more difficult to get started swimming because you need a pool and you also need to know how to swim.

It offers some benefits additional benefits, however. The focus on breathing in swimming is very meditative and can help you learn how to control your breathing which is important for anxiety.

It is also a low impact exercise, so if you have arthritis or other joint issues it may provide some relief for your joints.

Other Cardiovascular Exercises

There are many other ways to get some aerobic exercise in besides running, walking, and swimming. Dance is a great way to raise your heart rate and it is easy to find a fun dance video on the internet.

Martial arts and cycling are also fantastic aerobic exercises. There are many fun ways to exercise so keep an open mind. Eventually you will find something that you really enjoy.

How to reduce stress and anxiety

Photo by Cyril Saulnier on Unsplash

Weightlifting and Resistance Exercise

Weightlifting can also reduce stress and anxiety. According to a research review conducted by Strickland and Smith, resistance training with low to moderate intensity can provide a reliable and noticeable decrease in anxiety.

In addition to the anxiety reducing effects, it can also increase cognition and self-esteem and decrease depression. One thing to keep in mind with weightlifting is that it is very important to have a good form so that you do not get injured. If you are new to it, you should consider taking a class that can teach you the proper form.

Yoga and Pilates

These exercises are fantastic for reducing stress and anxiety. Yoga and pilates both involve stretching which is great for relieving tension from muscles. In addition they require focus, helping you to get your mind off of your fears and problems. I am including both a yoga and a pilates video that you can do with very little equipment.

Make sure that you are in good shape before your do these. Check with a doctor before attempting, especially if your have had issues in the past. Read my full medical disclaimer here.

If you have back or joint problems, make sure that you watch through it once before you attempt it, so that you can identify any exercises that may be a problem. These videos are both about ten minutes in length and great for beginners

Overcoming Your Obstacles

One issue that some people may experience with exercise is that the feeling of exertion is similar to panic. In order to combat this, it is important to start slowly and to also know some relaxation exercises in case you feel like you are experiencing this.

Another issue is that people feel like they have barriers that prevent them from exercising. For example, they may be worried that they are too out of shape to begin.

If there is a thought that is holding you back, it is important to take note of it and come up with a solution. For example, if you think that you are too out of shape, recognize that even a little bit of exercise is better than doing nothing. Remember, even just 5 minutes of walking can help anxiety.

how to reduce stress and anxiety

Photo by Clay Knight on Unsplash

In conclusion, exercise can be very beneficial for stress and anxiety reduction. In this article, I showed how various forms of cardio, weightlifting, yoga, and pilates can help you reduce stress and anxiety by giving bottled up energy a release valve.

My hope is that you can try out various types of exercise and identify one that you enjoy and that helps release your stress and anxiety.

Check out my article about how to quiet your mind to learn some more great tips for reducing stress.

Please leave a comment down below and let me know your favorite type of exercise! Also let me know if you personally have experienced the positive benefits of exercise on stress and anxiety.

Reduce Stress With Exercise

  1. hi. Thanks for the great article. i used to do a lot of running but the impact hurts my joints. I found it so stress relieving. I’ve started to just walk now and also find it helps. was wondering if you could help with this question. As I am time poor is it better to walk an hour every second day or for half an hour a day? Thanks for your help.

    • Hey! I believe that it is better to walk a half hour every day since it means that you will get the boost in your mood daily. Ultimately though you should do what works best for your schedule. 

  2. Hi, struggling with stress and anxiety myself I really found this a really interesting read. It was really opened my eyes to a few things and I am going to give it a go? I have heard several other people mention also mention yoga, it is worth giving it a go as I guess it cant do any harm can it?

    Many Thanks

    • Yoga is fantastic, but you do have to use some judgement when it comes to the poses. One of my favorite classes always ended with a handstand, but I would never do it because I thought that I would get hurt. One of my friends decided to check it out and I told her not to try handstands but she did anyway and got a strain. It took her some time to recover. So please use caution when it comes to yoga and talk to a doctor if you have concerns!

  3. Hi Eva,
    I agree with you that running is a great way to reduce anxiety. I’m glad that you also mentioned swimming and walking, because running can also add loads to your knees which can result in pain. when that happens runners need to substitute running with low impact exercise while recovering.

    Walking and swimming are excellent low impact exercises. In fact deep water running can give you the benefits of muscle recovery without the added pressure on the joints. So I would include deep water running as another good exercise to reduce stress and build endurance.

    Very informative and well written post.

    • You’re right- deep water running is a fantastic choice for people who want the aerobic benefits of running but have issues with their joints. Thanks for the suggestion.

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