Sure, we all know that exercise can make you happier, healthier and less stressed. But did you know there are specific things you can do (and not do) during exercise to rev your stress response even more? Work out and chill out with these eight simple stress-busting strategies.
1} am or pm?
The early bird burns more stress. An Appalachian State University study found that hitting the treadmill in the morning resulted in lower blood pressure and a better night’s sleep. But don’t worry too much about the time of day, says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John J Ratey, MD, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (Little, Brown, 2008). The key is consistency, he says. “Regular exercise makes you more resilient to stress,” he adds.
2} Solo or group exercise?
Being around people makes us feel happier! Research says exercising in a group setting can double the feel-good endorphins compared to working out alone. But choose your training partner wisely so you don’t end up listening to someone else’s problems during your workout.
3} Listening to music or exercising in silence?
Music really does tame the savage beast — as long as it’s music you like. Researchers at the University of Maryland found listening to your fave tunes opened up blood vessels and made people feel good. Music has also been shown to reduce muscle tension and decrease stress hormones. But don’t put the same song on repeat; not knowing what song is coming next gives you a hit of dopamine.
4} Hitting the pavement or hitting the weights?
You don’t have to run to get the runner’s high, but you do need to push yourself, Dr Ratey says. “When you do something new with your body, you’re creating more wiring in your brain.” That could mean trying a Zumba class or turning your treadmill session into an interval workout.
5} Power yoga or yin?
While pushing your body in a power class has its perks, any yoga class, from Ashtanga to Iyengar, can stave off stress. Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine found that gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels in the brain, a calming neurotransmitter, increased 27 per cent after yoga. The secret ingredient could be mindfulness. Focusing attention on the present moment gives your brain a much-needed break, Dr Ratey says.
6} Competition or recreation?
Team sports have a leg up over leisure activities. “It demands more of your brain to take in the social interactions,” Dr Ratey says. Plus, being part of a team or an event (like a marathon) boosts bonding and the release of oxytocin, a warm and fuzzy hormone that promotes feelings of wellbeing.
7} Indoors or outdoors?
Sorry, gym rats — exercising in nature gives you a natural
mood boost. A Scottish study found that a walk in the park can ‘zen’ your mindset and boost your mood, while other studies have found that exercising outdoors lowers cortisol and reduces tension. So even if you enjoy going to your gym, make time to exercise outdoors as well.
8} Short or long sweat session?
It takes less time than you think to get the serotonin surging. Just four minutes of Tabata training can boost your brain and mood, Dr Ratey says. Tabata consists of 20-seconds-on, 10-seconds-off all-out intervals repeated eight times. This level of intensity isn’t easy to maintain, but it’s a great option when your time is tight. The bottom line is that when it comes to exercise and the mind, it’s all good news.