Most of us feel stressed on a daily basis, but exercise can be the ultimate stress-busting remedy - here’s how to get started. Stress is everywhere, so we can’t pretend you can eliminate it completely but regular exercise is a powerful way to help manage it, and that doesn’t have to mean slogging it out at the gym, running for miles or sharing your total lack of coordination with a bunch of aerobics pros at classes.
How exercise smashes stress!
Exercise makes your body release endorphins*, or happy hormones, which lift your mood, may help unhealthy food cravings, help you sleep better and those feel-good vibes last long after you’ve showered and put your sports kit in the wash. It also tames tiredness; a 2008** study found that people who took even low intensity exercise regularly increased their energy levels by 20 percent and decreased their fatigue by 65 percent. Not bad for a gentle walk, or a spot of yoga. It’s also been found to make you more alert and improve concentration - helpful when stress can leave us feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
Exercising regularly eases tension in stressed-out muscles, so if you spent all day at a desk, shoulders up round your ears you’ll be familiar with knots in your back and nasty tension headaches, but working out eases those aches and pains. Not only that, when you’re pounding the pavements, swimming lengths or dancing to your favourite track, you leave the day's worries behind and you’re left with a spring in your step, a good dose of optimism and genuine sense of achievement.
Make it happen!
The good news is no matter your age, fitness level or schedule, you can find something that works for you. First up, and most importantly, do something you love - if you hate running but sign up for a half marathon you’ll give up within days. We’re spoiled for options - there are ever more inventive classes, a whole raft of celeb DVDs, apps to help you become a better runner, a more confident cyclist a chilled out yogi, a dancing queen, or to tone up in minutes. You can also try out a team sport, or simply walk more. Start slow, find your groove, then you’ll naturally up your exercise because you’ll be enjoying it!
Keep it easy
Decide you’ll do 5 minutes daily - and really commit to it. Once you’ve started there’s every chance you’ll carry on beyond five minutes, especially once you get fitter and feel all the benefits. If you feel tired, just promise yourself a 5 minute walk - anything is better than nothing and exercise increases energy levels so it’ll make you feel good. Set yourself a goal, but don't make it ‘run a 4 hour marathon’ or ’workout for an hour every morning’. Keep it realistic, and achievable, like ‘do something every day’ or ‘try a new class every month’. Schedule exercise for the time of day when you have the most energy, and make it part of your everyday life; decide to buy your lunch from a sandwich shop that’s a 20 minute walk away, pick it up and walk back, meet your friend for a walk, not a coffee or a cocktail, and decide that if you have to be anywhere that takes 20 minutes or less to walk - you’ll walk. Exercise in an environment that makes you feel good, whether that’s doing a workout DVD in your living room, dancing up a storm in a fun-filled class, or cycling through beautiful countryside. Make it social by exercising with a friend, partner or the kids - forget sitting on the bench texting when you take them to the park - run about with them, and when you’re watching TV, do 10 star jumps, or hold the plank during the ad break - every burst of activity counts. See, fitting in daily activity is surprisingly easy - and it can have an effect on your stress levels.
* Wedmb, Exercise and depression, 2016
** UGA Today, University of Georgia Study, 2008
26TH February 2016