Which exercise is best for stress?

Try these stress-busting movements!

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
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22 February 2021

Which exercise is best for stress?

Research shows us that particular activities like Yoga1 and Tai-chi2 could be considered beneficial stress management techniques. These kinds of activities are sometimes considered meditative, plus they have a focus on deep breathing. This, in turn, can be effective in managing the body's stress responses, such as a high heart rate.

However, we don't need to be too specific in terms of the exercises we do to reduce stress. This is because all types of exercise can have a positive impact on mood and stress due to the fact they release mood-lifting endorphins.

We also know that outdoor exercise of any kind provides exposure to vitamin D, a key nutrient for mood support. There is a close link between green spaces and reduced stress too.3

The range of activities we can do outside is almost endless, so we needn't get too caught up in finding a specific activity to lower stress here. Try gardening, washing the car or take your favourite exercise video to the park. The choice is yours! Just focus on finding something you enjoy, as that way you'll be more likely to stick at it.

My Self-Care Tip: How much exercise reduces stress?

Find out how much exercise you should be aiming for on a weekly basis.

How does exercise help stress?

There are several ways in which exercise helps to reduce stress.

In a very simple sense, exercise provides a break from our stresses as it gives the mind something else to focus on. In research, students who were forced to study whilst exercising, for example, maintained heightened stress levels; however, when they were allowed to focus solely on being active, their stress declined.4

As well as supporting the release of mood-heightening endorphins, exercise goes some way towards reducing the hormones adrenaline and cortisol which are produced in response to stress.

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Stress-tackling activities

In search of a new kind of exercise to try? Check out this lot!

Dance workouts – From Disney, to musicals, to 70s themed sessions, dance workouts come in all shapes and sizes. Have a look on YouTube to see what inspires you and get started straight away!

Skipping – Remember that activity we all used to do as kids? Get yourself some new skipping ropes and take up this old playground favourite! Perhaps some of those skipping rhymes will even come back to you too!

Trampoline – What could be more fun than jumping around like a kid on a trampoline? If you fancy trying this out, opt for a small trampoline that won't take up too much space. That way you can even do an indoor trampoline workout when it is too cold or wet to take it outside!

Boxercise – If you don't have any sports equipment handy, this is a good option for you. Boxercise fuses boxing with dance for a fun, energetic exercise session. Again, videos are available online or there may even be a class you could check out near you.

Tai-chi – This exercise has been shown in research to be particularly beneficial for those dealing with stress, anxiety, depression and even low self-esteem.5 Researchers aren't clear on exactly which aspects of Tai Chi bring these benefits, though it could be a combination of the fact it has meditative and relaxing components, plus stress is reduced when we find an activity satisfying or enjoyable.

A summary - what’s the best exercise for stress?

Research shows that Tai Chi and Yoga are particularly good exercises for stress relief; however, any exercise has the potential to relieve stress. This is because exercise releases endorphins and provides a distraction from worries. Outdoor exercise that provides exposure to green space can also boost mood and reduce stress. So, have fun exploring the many exercise options available!


1 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21614942

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3710158/ 
4 https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/1998/07000/Exercise_induced_anxiolysis___a_test_of_the__time.13.aspx 

5 https://bmccomplementmedtherapies.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1472-6882-10-23 

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