Some answers to life’s questions are totally counterintuitive. Can putting yourself through an intense physical workout actually have benefits for the mind? In other words, can a little exercise reduce stress? It doesn’t seem to make sense, but high-fitness level enthusiasts know the truth of these positive effects first hand.
Ask anyone who has been in the game for a long time. They just don’t feel like themselves unless they crush their regular physical activity of a high-intensity workout each and every day. If they miss a session, the stress hormones come creeping back up, along with bad old habits.
Yes, regular exercise is more than just a physical activity – the benefits of exercise comes with tons of psychological, emotional, and spiritual as well.
Here are five tips to help you reap the maximum mental reward from your exercise routine, so you can tackle life’s challenges and keep a cool head when things heat up.
1. When in Doubt, Walk It Out
If you find yourself stuck in a haze with low mood, lack of motivation, and a general sense of anxiety, you’re not alone. These are the symptoms of chronic stress response, and they’re common in our society despite our modern comforts.
While there is no quick fix to the problem, it’s fair to say that exercise is one of the most powerful remedies for stress reduction — and you don’t need to push a massive barbell over your head to get the benefits.
Simply getting up out of your seat and moving around is a great first step, and taking a walk outside is even better, especially if you’re someone who works in a home office.
That’s right, walking is by far the most underrated form of exercise on the planet, and it’s exactly what we are designed to do from a biomechanical standpoint. We are built to walk long distances and not tire out – it’s what they did in the stone age, and our bodies haven’t changed much since then!
Good posture, steady pace, and deep breathing can work wonders to clear the mind and support your mental health.
Just 20 to 30 minutes of daily walking will keep your muscles limber, improve circulation, and give you some crucial time away from technology, work, and other stressors in our lives. You can stroll around your neighborhood or make your way to a nearby trail. If you have dogs to walk or friends to join you, all the better.
When enjoying a brisk walk, the only thing on your mind is putting one foot in front of the other and filling your chest with clean air. Don’t underestimate this simple stress-blasting activity, whether you’re an experienced fitness veteran or complete newcomer.
2. Push Out of Your Comfort Zone
With your daily walking regimen dialed in, you’ll want to up the intensity at some point to counter stress with greater effect. This means trying new forms of exercise that may be unfamiliar and pushing yourself into unexplored territory. This is where the magic happens!
If you like the endorphin rush of cardio (i.e. the runner’s high), you can introduce jogging or biking to the mix and take your heart rate to new heights with a little aerobic exercise. Research shows that the best fat-burning zone will have you breathing heavily but still able to carry on a conversation with your workout partner.
Stationary machines offer a safe and easy way to get the blood flowing and sweat it out while enjoying some music or an audiobook. It’s not very exciting, but for many people, it’s the most reliable and consistent way to melt away the stress in a controlled environment.
When you’re ready to shift gears, it’s time to try out some resistance or strength training. Light dumbbells are all you need to get a great workout, and you can gradually escalate the weight as you gain strength and confidence.
Don’t forget about bodyweight exercises, which can be done anywhere, and any time you get blindsided by a stressful situation. Programs like Figure 8, JNL, and 6 Minute Body are powerful ways to refocus and get your head in the game when it matters most. When you put measured physical stress on the body, the mental cobwebs clear away – simple as that!
Further challenge yourself by trying out different exercises from our Body FX subscription. By adding different kinds of exercise methods you’ll have a full array of tools to fight stress in any scenario to keep that wellness intact.
3. Stretch and Breathe During Downtime
Rigorous exercise is key to diminishing stress in the moment, but when it comes time to rest and relax, you can stay in motion to keep anxiety at bay.
The world’s top athletes take stretching very seriously, not only for the mobility and injury-resistant benefits, but for the mental and emotional relief it brings after a tough workout or a big game. When you stretch, you literally release tension from your joints and muscles, which has a knock-on effect for the mind as well.
There is no perfect playbook to stretching – it’s largely intuitive and based on what your body needs at the time. With that said, you should dedicate a solid chunk of time to stretching each day, ideally once in the morning and then again at night.
During your routine, be sure to maintain deep, even breathing and allow yourself to experience a bit of discomfort in tight regions like the posterior chain and shoulders.
Add stretching and yoga to your daily plan and you’ll see massive cumulative benefits for mental and physical wellbeing over time.
4. Set Goals and Track Progress
During times of stress and strain, it’s easy to forget the bigger picture. That’s why it’s so beneficial to set realistic goals for yourself in the realm of fitness and track your progress daily with tangible metrics.
The reason so many of us fall off the fitness wagon is that we lose sight of why we started in the first place. The stress adds up and before we know it, we’re back on the couch where we began. With clear goals and progress tracking, it’s far easier to stay on track and overcome those brief moments of uncertainty or discomfort. Self-confidence and self-esteem are your friends!
Not sure how to plan out your goals or measure your progress? You may benefit from our Body FX subscription and online exercise membership group that offers support and accountability as you set out on your journey. Going at it alone can be tough, which is why we tend to thrive in group settings. Our Body FX Facebook Group is a great way to say hello, meet other members, share your progress and celebrate everyone’s non-scale victories.
The group can also help you map out meaningful goals, answer any lingering questions, offer daily motivation, and put you in the best possible position to succeed. Plus, you’ll make some great friends along the way.
In other words, an online community will remove all of the stress and uncertainty about fitness, so you can focus 100% on working out, eating right, and recovering properly for real results.
5. Stick to a Routine You Love
We get it – keeping a daily physical exercise routine and strict diet comes with its own stresses. Sometimes you wonder if it’s all worthwhile and feel like giving up. The truth is that if you don’t love the healthy lifestyle and quality of life you build for yourself, it’s unlikely you’re going to stick with it for the long run. This is the real secret to staying fit and fighting stress levels.
That’s why you need to try a variety of different exercise styles and habit structures to see what clicks with you. Some people are lifelong weightlifters, while others love to swim laps in the pool to wash away the stress.
Maybe you are the type of person who needs a guided exercise program like Figure 8, a high-energy workout dance class, to keep things fun and fresh, or you might like to jump around between multiple Body FX programs throughout the week. What matters most is that your game plan is sustainable, taking stress out of the equation.
Embrace variety and mix things up in your workout routine so you never get bored or burn out.
Stress is tough to pin down and conquer completely, and it takes daily work to do so. Not to mention that the stress hormone cortisol can really affect your cardiovascular system and raise blood pressure among tons and tons of other physical effects on your body like how well your immune system works and how sensitive you are to fight or flight. Eventually these issues can end up contributing to complications like heart disease, anxiety disorders, and obesity over time if left unchecked.
Thankfully, with these exercise tips and frameworks, you can destroy stress (at least for now), and level up your health in the mind, body, and soul.