Endorphin junkies swear by the mood-boosting effects of exercise, and they’re not wrong. Research has found that aerobic and strength training exercises alike can improve your mood, self-esteem and help you live a stress free life, even without weight loss.
Exercise’s secret is that it causes the release of various chemical messengers within the brain, like serotonin and dopamine, which along with other chemicals, cause feelings of euphoria, motivation, and pleasure. Although mood lifting after a workout can seem almost instantaneous, long-term stress reduction from exercise only comes after time. But studies show sweating at the gym for these long-term effects is worth it.
The key to a stress-reducing exercise is something that’s aerobic, noncompetitive, and repetitive, a landmark study published in the journal Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport found. Since this monumental finding, breathing exercises, such as yoga and meditation, have also been found to reduce stress. (And if you have a friend who is a regular exerciser, he or she can probably back up these scientific studies with plenty of anecdotes.)
Science shows that regular exercisers can even handle stress better than those who do not exercise. In one rat study, rats who were regular runners were better able to respond to stress than slothful rats. The reason? Aerobic workouts help create new brain cells, and those new brain cells appear to be specially engineered to handle stress.
Now that you know exercise is just about the best stress-buster there is, turn to these calorie-torching activities the next time you need some relief:
- Running or other high-intensity aerobic activity. The feeling known as “runner’s high” comes from an accelerated heart rate: When your heart beats faster, your body releases endorphins.
- Yoga. Yoga’s signature ouija breath – which is slow, controlled, and forceful inhalation and exhalation through the nose – is a powerful way to improve oxygen consumption and calm the mind at the same time. Just taking time to focus on your breath while you’re not in yoga class can also be a stress-reliever.
- Tai chi. Like yoga, tai chi’s flowing movement can be practiced anytime you need to decompress. Plus, tai chi has also been shown to build bone density, lower blood pressure, help people with chronic pain, and more.
- Martial arts or kickboxing. Ever get so wound up you could scream? Enter kickboxing or martial arts – anything that involves controlled punching or kicking movements is bound to be a stress reliever. Plus, martial arts teach you self-discipline, and the self-defense techniques you learn can make you feel safer.