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Many of us, living and working in today’s world, live quite sedentary lives – lots of sitting in front of computers, TV’s, laptops, games consoles – quite far away from the lives of our ancestors, and what our bodies are designed to do. Add to that the stresses of work life, family life, life goals, and health issues, and the stress starts to add up. Tightening of the hamstring muscles, poor posture impacting the vertebrae in our spine, craning the head forward, shoulders hunched and chest muscles tightening – all symptoms of sitting down all day. 

Exercise plays a vital role in the maintenance of our bodies. Using the muscles helps stretch them out, encourages circulation, and builds strength and flexibility when done regularly. Therefore exercise reduces risk of injury in day to day life, improves posture, and gives many other benefits to us – one such benefit is stress relief. So why is exercise an effective stress reliever?


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The first way that exercise helps relieve stress is that it does a great job of taking your mind off the stress and anxiety in your life. While this isn’t the only way to take your mind off things, it is a most effective choice if you push yourself when you exercise. Your focus becomes the present; putting one foot in front of the other, getting that weight off the ground, timing your breathing for swimming, calculating the angle of the ball to connect with your racket – whatever the sport, it demands your attention, and forces you to live in the moment. 

Exercise is known to reduce stress by other mechanisms – physical activity increases the transmission of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin and you may recognise those, particularly dopamine and serotonin, which are known mood regulators and contribute to the function of sleeping, eating, and digestion. 

It does appear that exercise has an effect on the release of endorphins – indiginous opioids found in the body that deal with pain and stress relief. However, there are issues measuring endorphin levels, with some results being inconclusive, with one study finding that studies found patterns of exercise-induced β-endorphin expression in the central nervous system in some places, and reduced in others. 

One thing is for certain though – tire yourself out and you will sleep like a baby! It is recommended that The NHS suggests that adults get between 6 and 9 hours of sleep, so exercise is a great way to make sure we feel tired when bedtime comes around, making sure we get to bed early enough – but it also improves the quality of sleep too! As regular exercise improves blood pressure and blood flow, the studies found the dilated blood vessels and increased blood flow may help the brain move waste products out of the brain, helping you feel refreshed and clear headed when you wake up. 

Boosting your self esteem is another way of staying on top of stress – another one of the benefits exercise provides! A study on the study found a relationship between physical activity and self esteem found that they are linked, both directly and indirectly. They found direct associations between body image and self esteem, and that perceived physical fitness was directly related to body image and self esteem. This means that getting out for some regular exercise will help you feel better about yourself!


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There are many types of exercise that will help with stress management, and the best way to go will always be to choose a form of aerobic exercise that you enjoy! In the event you don’t enjoy strenuous exercise, there are lighter forms of exercise that can still help you improve your state of mind.

Yoga is one such form of exercise – movement and controlled breathing is the main focus here, and by doing it regularly, we can improve flexibility of muscles and joints. Due to the more relaxed state of yoga – compared with running, for example – we can focus on deep breathing, encouraging the delivery of oxygen around the body as we flow between poses. There are a few different types of yoga out there, some more relaxed (Iyengar), and some more vigorous (Ashtanga) for those with more experience looking for a challenge. Pilates is a similar style of low impact exercise – normally more up-tempo with a focus on core strength and stability. 

Yoga is a great stress reliever

Tai Chi is great for doing the same thing – breathing and moving slowly, engaging all major muscle groups to get everything working in harmony, but its movements are rooted in martial arts. 

If you want to get moving, then simple aerobics can be a step in the right direction. The routines for aerobics tend to improve all elements of fitness, including a degree of strength training and stretching, all moving to the rhythm of the music – trust me, it’s enough to get the heart rate up! 

On a personal note, I use Wim Hof’s breathing technique and can vouch for its effectiveness, and this is done while in a relaxed state. This is one of the known ways of accessing the parasympathetic nervous system to engage the ‘relaxation response’ – the opposite to the ‘fight or flight’ – and is often done with some form of slow, relaxed breathing.

Maybe some of your friends are in the same boat as you? Getting together with friends to play some sport is another great idea, and gives double the opportunity for stress busting! The influence of socialising has been established as a study found comparable risk factor for death to smoking and alcohol consumption, even more important than physical activity and obesity! 

Something light and fun like badminton is a good start, but if you have been inactive for a while, use something like swimming as a means to ease into more strenuous exercise. A good walk with a friend is another easy way to bring your stress levels down, while getting that fitness level up – don’t underestimate the value in it!


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Modern life has its stresses – and there is no avoiding all of them. It is a precarious balance for many of us, so we should all have a few stress reduction tools in our back pocket when we need them. Practicing them regularly will help you stay on top of stress, instead of the stress getting on top of you.

The benefits of exercise cannot be overstated, but try to be aware of some of the other aspects of your wellbeing, like diet, alcohol consumption, and smoking. Taking steps to improve these areas will help you deal with stress for the long term, and that is the goal – so let’s get started and smash one in the back of the net: get out for some exercise today!