There are three certainties in life, death, taxes, and stress. And due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stress is something we are all now intimately familiar with. It’s there, in the background, ready to jump up and bite you when you turn the news on.
And not in a good way.
Although there are many unhealthy (think pigging out on ice cream) ways to deal with stress that are fun or tasty, these have a habit of coming back to haunt you. Probably in the middle of the night when you’re sleeping.
Believe me, that is not fun.
But a little exercise will help in a big way.
How Does Exercise Help?
Regular exercise helps reduces your body’s stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural mood elevators.
Because exercise (of all forms) increases the volume of the hippocampus through better blood supply that improves overall brain health by improving the delivery of oxygen and other nutrients. (1)
The Hippocampus is the brains area that’s involved in forming memory, emotion regulation (i.e. stress) and learning. And If there’s one thing people should be doing to improve their physical, mental health and reduce stress, it’s aerobic exercise.
1. Aerobic exercise
Studies have found people feel calmer after 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise. All you do is strap on your shoes and go for a walk, run, jog, bike or row and the stress will slowly melt away.
Here are some other suggestions that will help clear your mind and reduce your stress.
A. 10/10/10 minutes
Spend 10 min on the bike.
10 min on the treadmill (use the incline function for intensity) and keep the speed
around 3-3.5 mph.
10 min on the rowing machine.
Any cardio machine will do. Just choose three different modes and work at a
pace where you’re able to breathe without too much difficulty.
B. 3-minute Aerobic intervals (any mode you like)
Warm up for 4 min at an easy pace.
Perform a 3-min aerobic interval working at a pace where you’re slightly out of breath.
Follow this with active recovery for 3 min of low intensity. Repeat the above sequence 3 times and then cool down for 3 min. Try to add one interval every two weeks.
If you haven’t access to cardio machines and or you have no place to move then doing 30 seconds of any bodyweight exercise followed by 30 seconds of rest for 10 minutes is perfect.
Repeat for 2-3 total rounds.
Here is an example.
Marching In Place
Alternating Reverse Lunges
Running In Place
Marching In place
Alternating Side Lunges
Running In Place
Note- Almost any bodyweight exercise works in this format
2. Power It Up
Exercising to REDUCE stress is a fine line because exercise, no matter how easy IS a stress on the body. Not a bad stress but a stress all the same. So, when you’re exercising when you are highly stressed, you have to be careful not to ADD too much stress.
When working in a corporate gym, most of my clients were professionals whose jobs were highly demanding of them and their families.
And rather than add to their stress, we trained in such a way as in not to add further stress to their already hectic lives. This meant choosing exercises that minimized a certain muscle contraction.
Let me explain.
Lifting uses three types of muscle contractions: concentric, eccentric, and isometric.
Isometric muscle contractions are when the muscles produce force but there are no changes in the length. Examples are front planks, side planks, and wall squats.
Eccentric contractions involve the muscle lengthening while under tension due to an opposing force (gravity or added resistance) being greater than the force generated by the muscle.
Think lowering down from a chin up/bench press (slow eccentric) or the preparation for a plyometric movement like squat jumps (fast eccentric).
As fewer motor units of the muscle contract during the eccentric phase, the muscle can generate 1.3 times more tension than the concentric phase.
But the catch is that eccentric contractions although awesome and required leads to delayed onset muscle soreness which involves muscle swelling and decreased range of motion.
And if you’re already stressed, adding extra is not always a good thing.
Concentric contractions happen when force generated by the working muscles overcomes the resistance, and the muscle shortens. Think of pushing the bar away from your chest during a bench press or flexing your biceps at the top of a curl.
Now imagine exercising while minimizing your eccentric contractions and you have the perfect training when you’re stressed out.
Use the following training to vanquish stress because you can’t always punch holes in the wall.
Complete this as a circuit for a total of 4 circuits.
3. Take 5-10 Minute Movement Breaks
One of the biggest misconceptions about exercise is you need a lot at one time to see benefits.
But according to Dr Glenn Gaesser of Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University, doing three separate 10 minute workouts was much more effective than a single half-hour session in reducing high blood pressure. Because a little goes a long way in terms of your health.
And one of the reasons for your stress is not having time for a fully fledged training. But the good news is you can spread your exercise, breaking it up into smaller chunks and still get the stress busting health benefits of exercise. (2)
Here are some examples.
However, it can be anything you enjoy. Walking, yoga, stretching, housework or even yardwork. The devil is NOT in the details because any and all movement is good movement.
Stress sucks and you cannot avoid it, especially when it’s all around you. The trick is to find healthier ways to deal with it when there is no ice cream or alcohol around. And exercise is that trick.
Please pull a rabbit out of your hat instead of punching a hole in the wall.