November 26, 2016 / Published 8:00 AM EST / Tamara George

Move more and stress less: 7 stress-busting fitness strategies

Stress is a fact of life. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 7 out of 10 adults experience daily stress or anxiety at a level that interferes with their lives. It’s hard to avoid it altogether (we can’t all live on a beach in Tahiti), so we need to find effective ways to manage it – and exercise tops the list of recommended stress-management techniques.

But exercise doesn’t just offer stress relief. It reduces fatigue, helps us think more clearly, and improves sleep. Plus, it releases endorphins, which are hormones that act like natural opiates, reducing stress and making us feel good.

According to the American Psychological Association“Biologically, exercise seems to give the body a chance to practice dealing with stress. It forces the body’s physiological systems — all of which are involved in the stress response — to communicate much more closely than usual. The cardiovascular system communicates with the renal system, which communicates with the muscular system. And all of these are controlled by the central and sympathetic nervous systems, which also must communicate with each other. This workout of the body’s communication system may be the true value of exercise; the more sedentary we get, the less efficient our bodies in responding to stress.”

So here are 7 ways you can move more – and stress less.

  1. Rev your heart rate. Whether you’re into running, dancing or doing back-flips on a trampoline, getting your heart pumping is the best way to burn off tension and release those endorphins.
  2. Join a workplace wellness program. If your company offers fitness and wellness programming, take advantage of it. A recent study found that exercise at work doesn’t just make people physically healthier – it improves overall mental health as well.
  3. Get into downward dog. Yoga helps with flexibility and breathing, calms your mind and conditions your body. You can go with gentle yoga, or get the additional cardiovascular and strength benefits of the power version. Can’t fold your legs into lotus? Try tai chi – it has similar benefits.
  4. Kick it. Boxing and kickboxing are great for cardio and improve strength, balance and stamina. And if you need to work off frustrations, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as hitting those pads.
  5. Be a joiner. Get in on a little friendly competition by joining a team. Whether it’s volleyball or ultimate Frisbee, soccer or water polo, being on a team gives you double the stress-busting benefits – not only are you getting exercise, you’re also connecting socially.
  6. A little means a lot. Even if you only have 10 minutes to exercise, it’s still way better than zero minutes. Go for a brisk walk at lunch, run around the block a couple of times after an intense day, or do some push-ups after a stressful call. Doing a little every day is actually preferable than one big workout a week – consistency and frequency are key.
  7. Get outside. Yes, temperatures are dropping, but that’s no excuse for staying in. You can relieve stress just by being outdoors, plus, you could be missing all kinds of fun winter activities – snowshoeing, skiing or tobogganing, anyone? (Just make sure you dress for the weather.)

Staying active is just one strategy for reducing stress – here are 10 more that could work for you, too. Before starting a new fitness routine, talk to your doctor to make sure it’s right for you.

Want to know how you can get rewarded for your healthy choices? Manulife Vitality is a personalized wellness program that offers rewards when you make choices to live a healthier life. You can accumulate Vitality Points™ for routine activities such as walking, exercising and getting regular physical check-ups. Find out more.

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