As a neuropsychologist, I know that even 10-20 minutes of physical exercise reduces our stress levels. Today, my friend, Amy Connell, shares how exercise reduces stress and anxiety, as well as best exercises for stress relief, the physical and psychological benefits of exercise and other ways exercise can help your body.
On a recent episode of Your Hope-Filled Perspective podcast, I chatted with Amy about health “rules” we’ve heard that actually need to be broken because they’re not really healthy. If you missed that episode, you can listen to it here [Health Rules We Need to Break for Our Good – Episode 133.]
Amy is a personal trainer on a mission to help women realize that their eating and the way they move their body doesn’t have to be perfect, and that the reason we take care of our body is so we can do what we are called by God to do.
Read to the end for a book giveaway of Amy’s new book!
How Does Exercise Reduce Stress?
By Amy Connell
Recently I dropped my son off at camp and experienced all the feels: excited for his experience, sadness at leaving him, and anxiousness for the part of camp that would take him off the grid for five days without any contact with the outside world. Only a satellite phone with a “$50,000 button” would connect their group to emergency help.
After traveling five hours home, I was physically and emotionally spent. But I also felt like I had thoughts and energy bouncing around my body that needed a way out. I laced up my shoes and hit the sidewalk. Forty-five minutes later, I came back feeling not only better but lighter.
It turns out, that lighter feeling is validated by science. Exercise has been proven to reduce anxiety and stress, and provides us physiological and psychological benefits at the same time. Don’t you love it when science lines up with how God designed our needs? My body and brain needed me to move, regardless of what the science suggested. It’s just God’s intricate handiwork that makes the two congruent.
How does exercise reduce stress?
Recently I polled my Facebook friends and asked them the “why” behind their movement. If they participate in any formal exercise, which I prefer to call “movement,” why do they do it? I received various answers, but the most prevalent ones centered around feeling good and taking care of their minds as well as their body.
You may have heard the phrase, ”I’m going to run off the crazy.” That’s not just for runners.
I hear people make reference to this with regard to kickboxing, swimming, and a variety of other movements. While I do believe there is a time and place for formal counseling and therapy, I’ve also come to realize the benefit that exercise has on our mental health.
As a fitness professional for 16 years and general fitness enthusiast, I can confidently say exercise has helped my mental health throughout the years. Just like everyone, I have my ups and downs, but I’ve learned that getting some movement in can help my mood and general outlook.
How does exercise reduce anxiety and stress?
In her book, The Joy of Movement, Dr. Kelly McGonical, PhD, provides fascinating research regarding movement, exercise, and how it relates to anxiety and stress. She writes, ”in humans, exercising three times a week for six weeks increases neural connections among areas of the brain that calm anxiety. Regular physical activity also modifies the default state of the nervous system so that it becomes more balanced and less prone to fight, flight, or fright.”
Exercising also provides other beneficial feelings. I tell my clients that when we are done with a session, I want them to feel equal parts fatigued, accomplished, and energized. Yes, exercise will often make you tired. However, knowing you completed your workout for the day should also make you feel proud and accomplished for what you have done, and gets you ready for what is to come.
To receive the full impact of a stress-reducing workout, try to complete at least twenty minutes of whatever movement you choose to do. Seriously, choose anything.
There is no particular pace or distance that qualifies you to receive the benefits. All you need to do is find something that is moderately difficult and persist in completing it for at least twenty minutes. After twenty minutes, your body releases endorphins that give us feelings of exhilaration, reduced stress, and/or euphoria. You can get your own runner’s high without running!
What exercise is best for stress relief?
By nature, I’m a rule follower. If you tell me something is best or most effective, I want to follow those rules and execute it to the greatest perfection. That has gotten me in plenty of trouble in the past and resulted in wearing down my body and/or overtraining.
If you feel the same, I have great news for you. There are no rules about the best exercise for stress relief. The best exercise is one that you can consistently do and one that will bring you joy. For some, that’s running. For others, that maybe submerging their body in a pool and swimming laps back and forth. Perhaps it’s strength training, hiking, group fitness, or CrossFit type workouts.
Remember you can mix it up as well. In fact, I recommend it. Changing the way we move not only helps prevent injury, it can also challenge our mind and give us that feeling of accomplishment when we have done something different or new.
What are the physical and psychological benefits of exercise?
Modern formal exercise as we know it began in the 1970s as a way of simply looking good. Forty years later we have the benefit of numerous studies researching the effects exercise has on the inside of our bodies. Yes, many of us want to physically look our best on the outside (and I might add that will look different for everyone and there is no one “ideal” size), but exercise can dramatically change our insides as well. And let’s be clear, it’s the insides that provide us with vibrancy, longevity, and the ability to live out the calling God has for us.
Consistent exercise can help:
- reduce your risk of a heart attack
- manage your weight better
- have a lower blood cholesterol level
- lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and some cancers
- have lower blood pressure
- have stronger bones, muscles and joints and a lower risk of developing osteoporosis
- lower your risk of falls.
Another part of our insides is our brain. Exercise improves our mental health just like it improves our heart health!
Remember the 20 minutes of exercise we discussed above? If you do that every day, Dr. McGonigal reports that studies have shown the result is a reduced risk of depression and suicidal thinking!
If you’ve ever fallen in love or had a child, you know your brain is changed forever. You tend to see the world through a different lens. After I had my firstborn, I began to see awkward middle schoolers not as strange human beings, but as somebody else’s child. I also became more grace-giving because I desperately needed that myself as a mom.
Physical activity can do the same thing. Think of it as a new relationship with your body. It can bring just as much joy and fulfillment as when with a new spouse, friendship, or child (and let’s be honest, help mitigate the stress of those relationships as well!)
Find any kind of movement that brings you joy and get moving! If you don’t know where to begin, lace up some walking shoes and hit the pavement or trails with a friend. You’ll deepen your relationship, see God’s creation, and take care of your mind all at the same time.
We’d love to hear your thoughts and what you’ve experienced with regard to exercise and stress in the comments below.
About Amy Connell
Amy Connell is an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and has been in the fitness industry almost 15 years. She’s a recovering step counter and an imperfect eater living in God’s perfect grace. Amy encourages women to strive for balanced, sustainable health and appreciate their God-created bodies, no matter what that looks like. She lives in the Houston, TX area with her husband, two always-hungry teen boys, and her stray-turned-princess put bull named Grace.
In conjunction with this post and the podcast interview, Health Rules We Need to Break for Our Good – Episode 133. Amy Connell is giving away a free copy of her book that is set to release on November 4, 2021, Your Worthy Body: Find Freedom in Health by Breaking All the Rules.
Leave a comment below sharing with us one thing you’ve learned about ways exercise reduces stress and anxiety and you will be entered into the contest for your chance to win a copy of her book.
You could also share this blog post on Facebook or Twitter then comment here to tell us where you shared it and you’ll also be entered into the drawing.
The winner will be selected at random and announced next Monday, November 8, 2021. Continental United States only.