Over the last month, we have looked at what can cause stress, how people deal with it and the challenges that people have overcome in their personal lives. We’ve heard advice from fitness experts on the importance of energy levels, info on how to get started with yoga, and some hard-hitting interviews.
On a broader scale, as we enter the May Bank Holiday and indeed take that forward step into summer, there are hundreds of different ways you can use exercise as a form of stress relief.
Running, cycling, sailing, playing a round of golf (more benefits of golf can be found here) hillwalking, hitting the gym or training, whatever gets you going and helps take your mind off things is nothing but good for you!
We’ll take a closer look at 5 different ways you can exercise, using those exercises as a form of stress relief.
MAINTAINING A HEALTHY BODY
Now I’m sure everyone would agree that we know exercise is good for us, because it enhances our health and well-being in other ways. Because of this, we can indirectly deal with stress by improving our overall health. Improving our overall health, gives us all a feeling of strength and enhanced fitness, leaving our bodies at their absolute peak which in turn enables us to feel good all of the time. Got that? That’s the teacher part out of the way you’ll be glad to hear!
As an example, let’s look quickly at well, a freak of nature some may say, but Cristiano Ronaldo (you may have heard of him) is a prime example of an athlete who has I’m sure endured personal stresses and challenges throughout his career.
However, in terms of peak performance, diet, exercise and fitness, Ronaldo has maintained this at the highest level for almost a 20 year playing career, and is still in an incredible state of health and fitness at 36 years old. Of course, 36 isn’t old, but Ronaldo has been quoted as having the body of a 20 year old in terms of physique and health at the age of 36, now that’s beyond impressive!
To stay at that level, week after week, month after month, season after season takes an incredible amount of dedication and sticking to a strict regime is critical. The average Joe, myself included will never reach the level Ronaldo is at ( I wouldn’t mind his bank balance right enough) but it all boils down to the same core things; energy, dedication, hardwork, desire, training regime, diet & maintaining a level of health and fitness that your body can cope with, on an individual basis.
“Learn to train your mind as well as your body, mental strength is just as important as physical strength and will help you achieve your goals” Cristiano Ronaldo
When he’s in the gym, Ronaldo’s main workout is split between cardio training, such as running and rowing, and weight training. He said in a recent interview: “Mix it up, as well as keep things interesting, it’s important to ensure all areas of he body are targeted and exercises improve both strength and stamina.”
You can read more on that interview here. Now back to what you and I can do!
SO WHAT CAN I DO?
Some of the best forms of exercise for stress relief are found to have been; biking, jogging, walking or running on the treadmill, rowing and weightlifting. These have been identified by many experts in the fitness industry as effective forms of reducing stress levels and anxiety releasing those feel-good chemicals in your body. There is no better feeling than getting through a tough, gruelling workout knowing you are banishing those stresses and doing something positive for your mind and body.
Commonly, we are advised to take part in a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 times a week, this includes at least 2 sessions of muscle-strengthening, such as lifting weights or training with resistance bands (try a workout by clicking here). You should try and give all your major muscle groups a good workout, including your arms, shoulders, chest, back, legs, abs and other core muscles.
So with that in mind let’s take a look at 5 forms of exercise that can help make the difference to you.
RUNNING / WALKING
Walking or running outside is extremely good for stress-relief. A 30 minute walk on a daily basis or indeed a longer walk on a Sunday, say 90 minutes, helps to reduce your stress levels and clear your mind, especially if you are home-working.
Like anything else, starting off at a pace / distance / time that suits you is important and building up gradually as you go. We see now more challenges such as the ‘Couch to 5k’ encouraging people to build up to being able to do a 5k run. I like to aim for a time of around 25 minutes, keeping a good pace that I am comfortable with and a balanced time / speed of 1km per 5 minutes.
An alternative may be hillwalking, this of course can also be simulated on a treadmill should you prefer walking or running at home, treadmills also offer the interactive aspect of classes and entertainment if walking the streets is something you find boring. Perhaps even set yourself a 30-day challenge, such as the one Gordon Reid undertook, if you’re feeling brave! More information on these types of challenges can be found here.
Circuits are a bit like marmite, you either love them or you hate them!
Personally I’m a fan, and as a form of stress relief they really work as you are mixing weight-training moves with cardio, and short breaks in-between.
The result of a circuit is a HIIT workout that offers the same benefits of longer workouts but in a shorter time frame, normally less than 30 minutes It’s short, sweet and pumps up your body’s endorphin level, which improves your mood.
Yoga postures are a form of strength training, making you more flexible and resilient which in turn relieves physical tension. Some studies have found that yoga can also help to reduce blood pressure.
Yoga may not appeal to everyone but it is definitely worth considering it as a new way to unwind, work your body and benefit from the relaxation it can offer, in turn reducing any tension or stress you may be under.
“Breathing deeply, with a slow and steady inhalation to exhalation ratio, signals our parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body down. This in turn leads us to feel less stressed and reduces our heightened awareness of a situation. Yoga links our breath to movement so is an easy way to bring awareness to our breath and away from a stressful situation.” Jane Chittick
Jane has kindly outlined 5 of the best yoga poses that can be used to reduce stress; you can follow Jane’s page for more @jane.chittick.yoga on Instagram.
1. Seated side stretch. Exhale to place hand down and inhale sweep it up and move from side to side.
2. Melting heart pose. Come onto hands and knees and walk hands forward to top corners of the mat. Keep hips above knees and melt chest down.
3. Cat/Cow pose. Inhale to drop belly down and lift gaze, exhale to push ground away, round spine look to your knees.
4. Twisted all 4’s. Hand behind your head inhale to lift your elbow up, exhale to turn it in so you’re bringing your elbows together.
5. Bitterly forward fold. Soles of feet together and open knees out. Keep feet far away from your body. Left torso get heavy and spine to lengthen out. Ground spine bones down and drop chin to chest. Visualise your breath running up and down your spine.
TENNIS / SQUASH
Something a bit different, trying new sports and activities can be a lot of fun.
Tennis & squash are superb cardio workouts, they can help prevent many stress related conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Another key component is that you need another person to play with, so these sports keep you connected to others. Interactions such as talking with others we’ve found are essential in dealing with stress, that post-match chat might be the trigger to talk to your friend about issues you may be having.
Both sports can have intense rallies and played at quite a pace, this keeps your mind focused, tests your reactions and can really push your body. The average person can burn over 700 calories during a 1 hour game of squash, plus who wouldn’t love to release all that tension by smashing a ball off a wall?
Lifting weights isn’t all about those extreme bodybuilders you may have seen down your local gym.
No matter what weight you are lifting, the routine and focus you will have doing it is what’s important.
Firstly, it creates a positive focus. Concentrate on the weights you are lifting, you can escape from everything whilst your doing it, releasing any stress you may be feeling.
Secondly, you can create new goals. Is there a better feeling than hitting a goal or target you have set yourself? That could be as simple as deadlifting 20kg to 100kg or more. Whatever your target, push that negative energy into your lifting, and when you meet your targets, push yourself for new ones.
Lastly, the physical gains. Many of us stress about how we look physically, weightlifting takes away that worry. You will build confidence whilst you’re toning your muscles, making you feel better overall and reducing that fear or stress of how you look.
For more information on any of the subjects or topics we have looked at for Stress Awareness Month, check out our blogs over the last month – including a stress buying guide – and our social media channels for help, advice, tips and how you can combat stress.