Fitness enthusiasts will tell you that exercise is the best stress-management therapy there is. It relaxes your muscles and your mind, combats anxiety and depression, and improves self-esteem and mood. Research has found that almost any kind of physical activity can help reduce stress. This is probably because exercise exerts its stress-management benefits in many ways,, and different activities work for different people. The best kind of exercise for reducing stress is any activity you enjoy or value enough to perform regularly.
It is important to note that the amount and intensity of exercise required to produce stress-management benefits need not be overwhelming. While many people enjoy extended periods of vigorous activity, others find stress relief with a brisk walk or an hour of gardening.
What kinds of exercise work best for you? Of course, you will want to consider your health and fitness goals when evaluating your exercise program. But exercise can provide wonderful stress-management benefits in addition to health and fitness. A good exercise program fits your heart and soul, as well as your fitness goals. Take a moment to consider your personal activity preferences. What are your goals and wishes for your exercise time? Consider the following factors:
Would you like your exercise program to give you some time alone or time with certain friends, family members or coworkers?
Some people enjoy the solitude of a solo swim, walk or bike ride. Others find solitude alone in a crowd of people they are not obliged to talk to, like the other folks working out in the weight room. Some people use their exercise time to connect with others. They walk with a friend, get together with colleagues on the golf course or jog in the park while their kids set the pace on their bikes.
Are you motivated by structured workouts and measurable improvement?
The selif-disciplined of measured miles, weights and times appeals to many people. Keep a log of your workouts and enjoy the pride of reaching 100 miles, or achieving a faster mile. Activities such as circuit training, walking and swimming are best in this regard.
Is your program weather-proof?
Is it easy to exercise in the summer, but difficult when the dark comes early, or when it rains for days on end? Exercising outdoors is wonderful, but many exercisers live in locations that require an indoor alternative for weather that is too cold, too hot, too dark or too wet. And some people change activities with the seasons, for example turning to snowshoeing or skiing when snow is available.
Would you enjoy an activity with a spiritual focus?
Tai-Chi, yoga and many forms of martial arts incorporate a spiritual focus into physical activity. Many people use solitary exercise time (for example, walking or swimming) to mull over important issues.
Do you enjoy competition?
The competition of a good tennis or racquetball match chases stress right out of your mind, unless of course you find the competition stressful. For many players, friendly competition is the whole purpose of physical activity. Exercise is merely an ancillary benefit.
Do you enjoy activities that require total concentration?
Competitive spors often fall into this category. So do adventure activities such as whitewater canoeing and rock climbing, as well as non-aerobic activities requiring high levels of motor skills, such as archery and fencing.
Would you like to learn a new skill?
Trying a new activity provides a challenge, and meeting the challenge improves self-esteem. A new skill can then add variety to your exercise program. Older adults often find that trying something new helps keep them young.
Do you enjoy being part of a class?
Many people enjoy an aerobics class because they do more exercise following an instructor’s direction than exercising on their own. And being part of a class can be fun. Some people find that the structure of a class setting makes for more regular attendance and more regular exericse.
Daryl Conant, M.Ed.