What are the best kinds of exercise for stress relief and relaxation?

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Answered by: Matthew, An Expert in the Manage your Stress Category
Stress has numerous effects on the mind and body. Regardless of your lifestyle, stress has likely had a strong impact on your life. Various coping skills have proven to be effective for combating the effects of stress. Physical activity and exercise for stress relief is among the most effective practices for improving physical and mental well-being in times of stress. Exercise is generally separated in the categories of strength training, aerobic training, and flexibility training.

In terms of stress relief, strength training is least effective, while flexibility training is most effective. Nevertheless, each category of exercise has considerable impacts on reducing stress, and has unique impacts on the physical and mental effects of stress. The proceeding article describes the detrimental effects resulting from stress, the benefits of each of the categories of exercise, and tips for utilizing each type of exercise for stress relief.

Stress is a natural aspect of everyday life. Everyone has experienced stress, and in moderate amounts stress causes us to be productive and creative. However, too much stress can be detrimental, wearing on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The demands of modern life can be overwhelming, causing increased stress and decreased effectiveness in work, school, family, and day-to-day self care. Luckily, exercise is a proven strategy for reducing the impacts of stress, and increasing your capacity handle stressful events.

For your health and safety, before starting any exercise program, please consult your physician for health related considerations.)

The first category of exercise, strength training, reduces stress despite being less effective than cardiovascular training or flexibility training. Strength training is a vigorous exercise that allows you to release built up tension resulting from stress. The intense exertion of energy characteristic of strength training provides an outlet to vent frustrations, anger, and other emotions that can build up. The classic example of strength training is training in the weight room. However, "body weight exercises" provide equipment-free routines for strength training (see http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/tipsandtricks/a/basictraining.htm). Push ups, squats, lunges, chin ups, and other body weight based resistance exercises make strength training for stress relief accessible without a gym membership.

Aerobic training is a stronger strategy for stress relief than strength training. Aerobic training is characterized by long periods of moderately vigorous exercise designed to increase your heart rate to a target speed and increase oxygen circulation throughout your entire body. The moderate exertion required for aerobic exercise provides release of tension from stress, while rhythmic patterns of movement over extended periods of time provide calming and comfort. In addition, aerobic exercises cause the release of endorphins, which are the body's natural "feel good" hormones. Running is the classic aerobic exercise. However, other activities such as dancing, hiking, swimming, and rowing also provide aerobic workouts.

The final, and most effective, category of exercise for stress relief is flexibility training. Stretching sequences provide the maximum amount of utilizing flexibility training to relieve muscle tension that builds up from stress. Stretching also triggers the nervous system to reduce production of stress hormones. Typically, the most effective means of flexibility training is stretching muscles until slight discomfort, and holding the stretch for at least 30 seconds. Take care to never over stretch muscles, as you will risk damage to muscles and tendons. Many mind-body flexibility training techniques have become widely popular in recent decades. Among the most popular is yoga, which is utilizes routines of stretching poses for flexibility, balance, strength, meditation, and focus. The combination of mental focus with physical movement makes yoga one of the most effective techniques for stress relief.

Stress has strong detrimental impacts on everyday life, and takes skill and practice to be able to manage effectively. Exercise provides effective tools for stress relief in providing an outlet for difficult emotions, releasing "feel good" endorphins, and reducing muscle tension resulting from stress. Exercise will effectively improve your overall physical and mental well-being despite common stresses in your life. Whatever exercise you take on, make sure it is one you will enjoy. Utilize exercise strategically to provide yourself the care and health that you deserve.

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