Breathe Easy: The Best Workouts for Stress Relief

Feeling stressed? You’re far from alone. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America Report from 2019, Americans are more stressed than ever about the political and economic climate, citing the presidential election, mass shootings and climate change as significant stressors. On top of that,  over 60 percent of Americans cite work, money and the cost of health care to be substantial contributors to their stress.

At the same time, the world seems to be reaching peak stress levels, we’re simultaneously making brand-new connections between the pressure and our mental and physical health. Checkout the best Ashwagandha supplements that could help ease stress. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, stress causes a host of potentially serious issues in the body, including headaches, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and upset stomach. It’s also linked to six of the leading causes of death, including suicide, heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents and cirrhosis of the liver.

So, of course, most of us are stressed and we know we have to do something about it. Time and time again, studies show that exercise is one of the best ways to train the body to better fight stress. On top of that, working out provides an instant mood boost and the feeling of “runner’s high,” which may be an amazing way to distract yourself from the heaviness of stress.

Some workouts are better than others when the main goal is stress management. Here are a few of the top stress-relief exercises to consider.

1. Yoga
Studies show that yoga is a powerful way to alleviate stress and promote psychological health. The exercise involves combining calm, measured breath with various physical poses (asanas) that build strength, balance, flexibility and mental clarity. Three of the best kinds of yoga for stress relief are restorative yoga, hot yoga and vinyasa flow yoga. If stress relief is your primary goal, you may also consider taking a yoga class where meditation is incorporated into practice.

2. Pilates
Pilates is similar to yoga in that it involves both physical and psychological strength building in a breathing-focused format. However, Pilates focuses more on strengthening the body by trying to get it to relax and lessen tension. If you find that your stress manifests itself in very physical ways—especially through stiff muscles, aches, and pains—then you may want to consider taking Pilates.

3. Running
As we already mentioned, the pure joy of a runner’s high can help you get into a totally chilled-out state of mind. Although the runner’s high can technically be obtained through a variety of cardiovascular activities—cycling, kickboxing, etc.—running is one of the best ways to go because it can provide the added benefits of going outside and getting some fresh air. Tip: To avoid injury and discomfort in high-impact workouts, make sure you have the right workout clothes for women. A good, supportive sports bra and a pair of comfortable running shoes will help ensure that you enjoy the activity to its fullest.

4. Swimming
Swimming is such an amazing physical activity because it can provide all the mental and physical benefits of high-impact cardio, such as running, without the negative stress and physical pain associated with it. 

Being surrounded by water and enjoying the gentle massage of the waves or jets can also help your muscles relax. This helps you settle into a state of mindful relaxation while also preparing your muscles to go further and harder while swimming laps.

5. Kickboxing
We all know the old cliché of getting stress and anger out with a punching bag. Indeed, pummeling and kicking a heavy bag with all your power and might can help release endorphins in the brain, effectively helping you relax your mind and ward off anxiety simultaneously. 

At the same time, with kickboxing, you still get that cardio-induced high you’d get with running or swimming, so you instantly feel happier. Anytime you’re feeling frustrated or angry, consider taking a boxing lesson or signing up for a kickboxing class. 

6. Hiking
Two of the most powerful stress relief remedies are exercise and fresh air, so why not combine them? The truth is that, according to Harvard Health, hiking has natural stress-relieving powers while also bringing strengthening and conditioning benefits to the body. Hiking can bring awe-inspiring views and give you the chance to connect with nature, animals and fellow hikers.

7. Dancing
If you’ve ever blown off some steam with a good night of dancing, you know that there are very few ways to get a better or faster endorphin rush. Plus, it’s just so fun! Dancing actually does a lot for mental and physical well-being, from boosting one’s self-esteem and social skills to increase endurance and muscle tone. There are many ways you can dance for exercise, such as through Zumba, hip-hop class or even by learning a few dance routines on YouTube.

8. Tai Chi
You’ve probably seen older adults doing tai chi in public places and may have noticed how calm and happy they appear. Tai chi is the Chinese martial art involving mastering controlled movements in order to generate internal energy, increase mindfulness and build strength. 

Not only will this calming activity help you build up inner strength, but it’ll also teach you vital meditation and focused breathing skills, which can lead to stress relief and lowered levels of anxiety. While tai chi is commonly enjoyed in public, outdoor spaces, it certainly can be done at home (there are many tutorials on YouTube) or at a fitness center indoors. 

The Best Workouts Are the Ones You Enjoy

At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember when choosing any sort of stress relief activity is this: make it something you enjoy. Going too far out of your comfort zone or pushing yourself beyond your physical limits can not only lead to injury and accidents, but also to distress and worry leading up to your workout. 

Find exercises you actually want to do and you’ll reap all the amazing benefits of working out, including lower levels of stress, worry, and anxiety.

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