As well as reducing the risk of heart disease, strokes and certain cancers, exercise is now recognised as having a positive effect on mental wellbeing. It has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety and mild depression, relieve daily stress and improve sleep. This is because physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, which are considered the bodies ‘feel good hormones’, therefore improving mood, self-confidence and self-esteem. In turn, this can improve your perception of the stressful situation allowing you to better manage it. Exercise can also improve your sleep which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety. All this can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of control over your body and your life.
Although the Department of Health recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week for adults, exercise for the purpose of stress relief does not have to be of a certain intensity or duration. It could include a walk at lunchtime, walking the dog or gardening as well as other forms of activity, such as running, walking, swimming or cycling which have a calming effect due to the cyclic nature of their motor pattern. And if you can exercise outdoors, even better; outdoor activities have been shown to improve this relationship with wellbeing, and exercising in the ‘natural environment’ has shown decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression as well as greater enjoyment. Therefore, it’s likely that you’ll want to participate again!
Relieving stress through physical activity:
- Try to incorporate activity into your daily routine to maintain the stress relieving benefits.
- Choose an activity you really enjoy to encourage participation in a hectic lifestyle.
- Exercise earlier in the day to improve sleep, which will in turn help to manage your stress levels.
- Avoid competitive activities if the thought of not performing well will increase your stress levels.