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Stressed out? Get a good dose of exercise.

Allina Health doctor discusses the benefits of physical activity for stress relief


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It's a fact of life. Most people experience stress—going to work, caring for children, keeping up with the bills.

Too much stress damages your health. It can weaken your immune system, increase your risk of heart trouble, raise cholesterol, cause weight and skin problems. The list goes on.

When stressed-out patients come to Michelle Johnson, family medicine doctor with Allina Health, she recommends regular doses of physical activity.

Exercise not only strengthens physical health; it can help you handle stress by:

  • relaxing tense muscles
  • helping you sleep better
  • releasing chemicals that give you a sense of well-being.

"Exercise is an outstanding way to reduce your stress," says Johnson. "It also reduces anxiety and depression."

How often should I exercise?

Dr. Johnson encourages her friends and family to exercise 50 minutes a day, six days a week.
"If that's overwhelming, start with five minutes a day, and then add five more minutes as you feel stronger or have more time," she says. "The important thing is to schedule it in and keep it regular."

What activities best treat stress?

"The answer to that question depends on what you like to do," says Johnson.
For many, repeating the same motion has a relaxing effect similar to meditation. Rhythmic exercises that can provide this effect include swimming laps, walking, running and cycling.

Some people enjoy exercises that focus on breathing and fluid movement, such as yoga and tai chi.

Others prefer exercising in pairs, for instance, by playing tennis or dancing.

"I enjoy playing outside with my children," says Johnson. "Running around with them at the playground or ball field helps me forget the worries of the day."

Ideas to reduce stress through exercise

As you explore ways to reduce stress through exercise, these ideas might help:

  • Think of exercise as "recess." Children need play time, and so do adults. We need to stretch our muscles, get our hearts pumping, breathe fresh air and take a break from our responsibilities.
  • Separate yourself from work. To get a stress-reducing benefit from exercise, choose an activity that's separate from the work you do all day long. Chasing after children, using the stairs at work, running the vacuum cleaner and mowing the lawn are good ways to burn calories. But they may not do much to reduce stress. Find activities that take your mind away from the daily grind.
  • Keep it varied. Many people get bored doing the same activity, so mix it up. For example, take a yoga class once a week, go for a walk a few times per week, then play racquetball with a friend.
  • Remember activities you enjoyed as a child. Chances are you'll still like them. Was ballet a lot of fun? Take dance lessons. Did you love to go skating? Adults can do that too. Did you enjoy competitive sports? Look into group activities at the local community center, health club or similar organization.

Content Source: C. Krucoff, M. Krucoff, Healing Moves, Harmony Books; F. Pashkow, C. Libov, The Women's Heart Book
Review Date: 8/20/2012
Reviewed By: Michelle Johnson, MD, Quello Clinic Savage

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