How to Work Out to Relieve Stress Rather than Add to it

Exercise is a great stress reliever. Find out here which type of exercise is best and which ones to avoid to help relieve stress and get the maximum benefits of exercise.
I'm Michael Olpin. I'm really good at helping you get rid of your stress ... for good.



Recently, someone asked me this terrific question:

What’s the best way to exercise without letting stress my stress levels raise too high?

Here is my response. 


Fight or Flight

The fight-or-flight response is not designed to last very long … only a few seconds.

That’s how long it took our ancestors to get away from dangerous situations (and how long it takes us today to escape most of today’s life-threatening situations  – seeing a snake while walking on a mountain trail).

In most cases, it shouldn’t last much longer than 15-30 seconds. Any longer and we are keeping the body out of balance unnecessarily.


High Intensity Interval Training

With that in mind, some of the very best types of exercise for the reduction of stress would be the High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) versions of working out.

That means short sprints that last no more than 30-60 seconds followed by resting periods lasting anywhere from 30-120 seconds. And a person doesn’t need to do many much more than 6-8 rounds of these high-intensity bursts.


HIIT Workout Example 

A high intensity interval training workout may look similar to this: 

 5 minute warmup 

30 second sprint

90 second recovery jog/walk

Repeat 6-8 times


5 minute cool down


Why Sprinting Works to Relieve Stress

The reasoning is this: If you fill a good portion of your ongoing self-talk with imaginary threats (we don’t have bears or tigers in our neighborhoods anymore), the stress response gets chronically activated — your body gears up to run fast away from, or ferociously fight, something or someone.

When you do the HIIT exercise, you successfully follow through on the message and utilize the fight-or-flight physiology.

And you can do the same thing with other forms of exercise such as weight-lifting or bodyweight workouts, spinning, cross-fit or any other activity that switches between high intensity and much slower.

I always say, when someone asks me which is the best exercise, that it is the one you will do. There aren’t wrong ways to exercise when it comes to helping deal with stress.

Even yoga, as everyone knows, is terrific for promoting mindfulness, oxygenating the body, stretching and strengthening the muscles and joints.


What Exercises may not Help to Relieve Stress

The only type of exercises that are being questioned right now are the long, aerobic types of exercise like running a marathon or biking a century.

We are starting to question the wisdom of really long bouts of exercise. There may be increases of cortisol (a stress hormone) and adrenaline with that type of exercise.

But on the flip side, with just about every type of exercise, when we feel in control, stress (cortisol and adrenaline) tend to decrease.

So if you’re running for a long time and you are having the time of your life, you’re probably not adding much to your stress.


Notice How the Exercise Makes You Feel

Finally, I would say the test to tell if an exercise raises stress levels (adrenaline and cortisol) would be how you feel soon after you are done.

If you feel refreshed, recharged, more peaceful and calm, you’ve probably chosen wisely.

If you feel worse, both emotionally and physically, you may need to adjust your workouts.


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