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Stress management

Exercise for stress management

Stress is a part of life, of course, but chronic stress can cause or worsen many serious health problems, including obesity, depression, anxiety and cardiovascular disease. Luckily, there’s one thing everyone can do to alleviate its effects: exercise.

Exercise doesn’t have to be about losing weight, says Aja Battle, ACSM, an exercise physiologist at Piedmont Atlanta Fitness Center. “Exercising in times of high stress can serve as a distraction, and you can use it to work away the stress.”

In addition to promoting overall wellness, physical activity can:

1. Enhance your mood

The physical act of exercise can lift your mood in multiple ways.

“Just going for a walk and being out in nature can heighten your mood,” says Battle.

And as a physical bonus, she says, if you can exert yourself hard enough, you’ll get that happiness and boost of energy known as a “runner’s high”—when your body creates endorphins, chemicals produced by the body that relieve stress and pain.

Other forms of exercise can create the same response, so you can get that same high from dancing, yoga or hiking.

2. Boost your self-confidence

So many people see exercise as something that’s hard or defeating, says Battle. But “it’s a great mood and esteem booster,” she says.

Once you’ve committed to it, “you can see exactly what you can do, and you realize you have more strength than you started with.” Plus, she adds, “you’ll start to notice a change in your body as well as your mood.”

3. Improve your mental health and sleep

Studies have shown that fitness can help decrease symptoms of mild depression and anxiety, partially because it helps you sleep better. Depressionanxiety and lack of sleep can become a vicious cycle, with each feeding the other, but exercise can break the cycle.

“Intense exercise can make you tired, of course,” says Battle. “But it can also be energy-boosting and help you wake up.”

To help yourself sleep, don’t do intense cardio late in the day. Battle suggests yoga, tai chi or some type of water-based exercise class.

“Yoga and tai chi are amazing, and when you exercise in the water, it gives your body a chance to relax, puts it through a good range of motion, and it doesn’t feel like working out,” she says.

Finding a workout you love

While physical activity is non-negotiable if you want to reduce stress, the good news is you can choose your favorite type of activity—almost all workouts are beneficial in some way.

“It’s all about finding what makes you happy,” says Battle. And if you don’t know what that is, “YouTube is an amazing tool. You can find full and partial workouts from trainers, including workouts where you don’t need equipment. You can use what you have at home.”

She also points out that exercise can be done at any fitness level.

“You can do seated workouts on your couch,” she says. “Or just use your body weight, like doing pushups and squats.”

Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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