Regular moderate exercise, like brisk walking, improves not only your physical health, it also boosts your mental health. Exercise helps to relieve tension, it counters anxiety and depression, and you have more energy and are more optimistic. When you are physical active during the day, you also fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. All of these attributes help you manage stress more effectively.
Why is exercise such a powerful tool to manage stress?
Physical activity increases the flow of oxygen to your brain. It also pumps up production of endorphins, which are feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain -- sometimes referred to as the happy hormones. Runners often talk about a "runners high" and you can experience the same effect after a brisk walk, game of tennis, or nature hike. An afternoon of high-powered house cleaning or gardening will also boost endorphins.
Another way physical activity aids in managing stress is by distracting your mind from the day's aggravations. Repeated motions help you focus on your body, not your mind, and you focus in on the rhythm of your exercise. When you focus on the physical task of walking or moving, it promotes a sense of energy and optimism, and helps provide calmness and clarity.
Exercise also relaxes tense muscles. It is one of the most effective ways to manage neck and back pain and even headaches.
While many people will notice their mood improve immediately after physical activity, these good feelings continue and generally become cumulative over time.
This is another stress buster that is especially effective during the cool down time after exercise. Deep breathing is also a great way to manage stress during the work day, or anytime when you can't get up and take a walk. Deep breathing slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure which counters the effects of stress.