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Exercise is great for stress relief. You’ve heard every dedicated runner or gym-goer say so. They love the endorphin rush, or the peace and quiet of the pool, or the focus they find when they’re boxing or lifting weights. But is that actually backed up by science? Does exercise relieve stress effectively?

We’re all under stress these days, and learning to cope with it effectively will serve you well. So the question is, does exercise really work for stress relief? And if so, should you be pounding the pavement or heading to the weights section? While exercise isn’t a magical cure-all for everything, it does help with stress relief.

Woman exercising in gym by doing  bicep curls

Why is exercise beneficial for stress relief?

You’ve probably heard about ‘runner’s high’ or heard people say how good they feel after exercise. You might be sceptical, but exercise, endorphins are released as a response to the increased heart rate and heightened metabolism. These endorphins act as natural painkillers and mood elevators, which is why people feel so good after a workout.

Plus, the endorphins don’t just stop flowing when you’re done exercising. In fact, they’re also released in the hours and days after a workout. So it’s a double whammy in terms of reducing stress and anxiety.

Additionally, regular physical activity can help reduce levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. Exercise can also help to improve sleep and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Studies have shown that physical activity can improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise can also help to improve sleep and reduce the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol. And it isn’t just short term either. Research shows that regular exercise offers long-term benefits for stress management, as it can improve overall physical and mental health, increase resilience to stress, and promote overall well-being.

What are the best types of exercise for stress relief?

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious and want to sweat it out, does the type of exercise matter? Actually, it does. But maybe not as much as you think. Still, if you want maximum benefits then it helps to know what the best types of exercises for stress relief are.

It’s difficult to say which type of exercise is “best” for stress relief, as different types of exercise can have different effects on different people. Both yoga and running can be effective for stress relief, and the best choice depends on personal preference, fitness level and goals.

The key is to make physical activity a regular part of your routine. Regular exercise can be a great stress-reliever!

Woman exercising by swimming in gym pool

Cardio and aerobic exercises

Aerobic exercises such as running, cycling, swimming, and dancing have been shown to be particularly effective at reducing stress and anxiety. These types of exercises increase the heart rate, which can help to release endorphins, reduce stress hormones, and improve mood.

Running and other high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are known to be effective at releasing endorphins, especially if you get that heart pumping hard. HIIT can also help to reduce stress hormones, improve overall physical fitness, and boost self-esteem.

On top of that, many people find that the physical exertion and mental strength needed for a hard cardio session can help them to feel calmer and more relaxed afterwards. If you’ve ever got in the zone while running or cycling, you’ll know what they mean!

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Strength training

Resistance or strength training exercises such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises can also be beneficial for stress relief. On top of the release of endorphins, they can help to improve self-esteem and body image, which can be negatively affected by stress.

We have some tips on how to get started with strength training if you think pumping iron might help you alleviate some of the stress you’re feeling. And the good news is, you don’t have to brave the bench press. There are plenty of ways to benefit from strength training without lifting heavy weights.

Woman doing yoga pose on mat

What about yoga?

Yoga has certainly gained popularity in recent years. And we’ve already found that yoga can improve body composition and build muscle. But what does it do in terms of stress relief?

Yoga and meditation practices can help with stress relief by promoting relaxation and mindfulness. Plus, having to focus and ‘center’ yourself can also help you to calm racing thoughts or distractions. But it isn’t just that. The combination of physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation can help to reduce muscle tension, lower heart rate, and decrease the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.

There is a growing body of research that supports the stress-relieving effects of yoga. Studies have found that regular yoga practice can improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Yoga has also been shown to improve sleep quality and reduce the levels of cortisol in the body.

On top of that, yoga has been found to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety in specific populations such as veterans with PTSD, individuals with depression and anxiety disorder, and cancer survivors.

Man boxing in gym for exercise and stress relief

Does it matter if you do other exercise for stress relief?

It’s worth noting that doing different types of exercise might provide you with more holistic or overall stress release benefits. And it’s true that all exercise comes with mental health benefits. If you’re someone who finds yoga calming and meditative, then it may be the best choice for you. But if you prefer the feeling of a hard workout, running and HIIT may be more beneficial.

Ultimately, the most important thing is to find an activity that you enjoy and will stick with. The best exercise for stress relief is the one you’ll do consistently and actually have fun doing!

Words by Sophie Baker