A man holding two weights in his hands while lifting them

Is Your Exercise Routine Making Your Life More or Less Stressful?

There are tons of great ways to reduce stress, like meditating and breathing deeply and talking it out with someone. Another great way to turn down the dial on anxiety and turmoil is exercise…but only if you’re listening to your body and doing what’s right for you.

Here are some ways to make sure exercise is actually making you feel better, not worse.

Do something that makes your body and mind feel good

Sore muscles after lifting weights aside, your workout should be making you feel relaxed or flooded with endorphins either during or after (or both). If it’s making you feel really physically uncomfortable, causing you stress because you feel like you’re not doing it “right,” or it just doesn’t feel good to you, it’s not going to reduce stress, it’s going to add on top of your already full pile of worries.

Stop when you feel like you’re straining something or pushing yourself beyond what’s right for your body

Remember how Crossfit came out and was so popular? It was a huge hit, and still is, but many, many people were injured by being improperly trained on how to perform the exercises, using weights that were too heavy, or just putting too much strain on their bodies. That is NOT going to reduce stress, y’all. You can push yourself some when it comes to reaching new goals (like finishing the mile at a faster clip), but when your body is giving you big time “STOP!” signals, it’s time to cool it.

Watch out for exercise addiction

I know, I know, this isn’t the worst addiction crisis we’re currently facing, but it’s something that will absolutely increase stress rather than reducing it. If you feel like you absolutely have to work out even if you’re sick, even if you’re sore, even if you have to drive through a blizzard to get the gym, your mental well-being is being impacted and you’re not doing anything to reduce stress. Some people do like to engage in hard physical exercise to quiet their minds and reduce tension, but if missing a single exercise session causes anxiety, there’s more going on.

Try yoga, stretching, or walking, the trifecta of stress reduction

Ah, just thinking about these three makes me feel calm and centered. My personal favorite kind of exercise is walking, especially when I’m at my favorite loop around a lake near my home, or hiking in the woods with my family. Walking in nature has strong health benefits, so I’d definitely choose that over walking on a treadmill if you’re exercising to reduce stress. Walking is easy on the body and good for the soul (in my opinion), and a great way to ease stress through movement.

Stretching can also be very calming and relaxing to your body and mind. Look up stretches online if you’re not sure where to start, and never push yourself too hard, just enough for a gentle stretch. You’ll find when you release each stretch, your mind and body will feel deeply relaxed.

Yoga certainly is a good way to get your stretch on, but it has added benefits, such as control of your breath and helping to empty and calm your mind. At the end of a yoga class in a studio, you’ll usually close the session by lying down and letting go of anything that you’re holding onto, and the entire experience will leave you feeling refreshed and calm. Just be sure to engage in a class or video that suits your level of expertise.

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