We’re on the eve of one of the most stressful holidays in the United States. Though Thanksgiving should be a day of peace, love, and turkey, many of us find ourselves making huge meals that we may be ill-prepared for, travelling with any combination of small children, adult-children, heavy traffic and airport security (all while trying to keep the casserole warm), or just not looking forward to the inevitable religion-or-politics conversation with Uncle Bob. Holidays are stressful!
But we also know that a little sweat can really drop those stress levels. The research on the impact of exercise on stress has studied a wide variety of exercise types, intensities, and frequencies – what you do, how hard you work, and how often you do it. And they found some pretty awesome results – it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something. Cardiovascular work, strength training, yoga… the list goes on and on, and everything had a positive impact on mental and physical health. So before you head over to Uncle Bob’s house, sneak one of these stress-reducing workouts in. You’ll feel better, brush off the stress more easily, and maybe even enjoy that slice of pie a little bit more!
Go for a walk. Go for a run. Ride your bike, paddle your kayak, jump on your unicycle. Steady, rhythmic movements are the hallmark of cardio work. If you’re looking for immediate stress relief, make sure you put enough effort in to get your heart rate up a little (or a lot). This doesn’t necessarily mean hard work – I want to emphasize that walking is a great option! Aim for a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes if you’re sticking with long, slow cardio. Or, if you’re working with high intensity intervals, try to get in 10-plus rounds of 15-30 second efforts. More on high intensity interval training here. Yes, it’s for everyone.
Anyone who lifts weights on a regular basis can tell you about how good they feel when they’re done with a workout. Same heart rate rules apply: work towards at least a small increase in heart rate. Strength training is essentially interval training, assuming you’re actually lifting weights that pose a challenge. You find a heavy thing. Pick it up. Put it down. Repeat, then rest. Heart rate goes up a little, then comes down a little. Plus, knowing that you’re strong and getting stronger is a mood boost in itself!
Purists will argue that these types of exercise are all different. It’s true that they all have different methods and approaches to movement, but they are all movement. This movement is often slow and deliberate, with an emphasis on breathing and a mindful approach to the flow or posture. The mindfulness aspect is actually one of the best parts about these exercises. By focusing on your breath and movement, you aren’t focusing on all the other stressful things going on. It’s a zero-sum game and I like it!
Do it right! It should be mildly uncomfortable, enough so that holding it is somewhat unpleasant (without being so horrible that you want to quit). If you want a stress-busting stretch, focus on the muscle and stretch, and breathe deeply and slowly. With the right amount of effort, you might even be surprised by breaking a sweat. Just remember, there is such a thing as too much stretch! Aim for a maximum intensity of 7 out of 10 to keep your muscles getting long without actually tearing them up.
These are my go-tos for decreasing stress using exercise and movement. But this list is not exhaustive. What’s your best stress-relieving move? We’d love it hear it!