It’s not rocket science: getting your body moving gets rid of stress. Exercise treatment has been found to be one of the most effective ways to deal with the good, old-fashioned stress that comes with a hard day’s work in healthy people, as well as a number of anxiety disorders and some chronic illnesses for those who experience them. When your body is stressed, it creates chemicals that can make you feel agitated, upset and even panicky, potentially activating your fight or flight response in more extreme cases—it is estimated that about 40 million Americans suffer from the effects of such stress. However, exercise can turns those processes around, releasing chemicals that can make you feel happy, relaxed and at ease. Studies show that the best results come from following a short workout program that includes exercises that push your breathing and include movements that use many muscles at once. If you feel like you could use a physical and mental pick-me-up, give this cardio-heavy, full-body workout a shot.
Run/HIIT Sprints: 15 minutes
Start off by warming up for a good five minutes at a comfortable and measured pace, making a point of taking full, deep breaths and exhaling completely each time. Deep breathing not only gets your blood pumping and muscles limber for a proper warm up, but breathing from your stomach also activates stress-reducing serotonin production in your brain—the whole point of this workout. After you’re legs are ready to go, launch yourself into a series of high-intensity interval sprints, alternating 30 seconds of all-out busting your butt with about a minute of light jogging. This type of interval training will require a massive oxygen intake, and once it’s over, will leave you feeling great.
Punching bag: 15 minutes
Next, rest your legs while warming up the rest of your body by hitting this next exercise: literally. There is a certain poetry to using a punching bag as therapeutic stress relief, but there’s good science behind it. Venting some emotions, such as anger, in safe, controlled situations relieves pent-up tension and can be mentally cathartic. However, 15 minutes of striking a bag also activates many of your body’s muscle groups, including your core muscles, shoulders, chest, triceps, biceps and more. Keep your feet moving and your lungs breathing deeply as you belt out two quick jabs—light punches that barely connect with the bag—followed by two longer, stronger punches. Try to push the force of your blows through the bag to really work out your muscles.
Full-body core exercises: 10 minutes
Blowing out your abs is also a great way to torch flab while reducing stress. Ab exercises reduce tension by forcing you to control your breathing, and these also activate several other parts of your body to maximize oxygen intake. Start with a variant of the ball plank—prop your elbows up on an exercise ball, and anchor your toes on the ground. Straighten your back to perform a plank, feeling how it activates your core muscles as well as your arms, chest, shoulders and legs. Next, roll the ball slowly, spelling out the numbers 1-25 to activate your smaller stability muscles, while keeping your feet in place and your breathing measured (it’s easy to start taking shallow breaths, but these will work against you as they are known to increase stress, not reduce it). It should take just over two minutes per set, and you should aim to perform four with a short rest in between each.
Yoga cool down: 5-10 minutes
Nothing clears the mind and relaxes quite like yoga. Try the following poses to clear your mind and limber you up after this workout—and remember to breath deeply and slowly.
The downward-facing dog helps reduces stress in your neck, which is a key point for guys who work a desk job. Starting on all fours, lift your knees off the floor and push forward firmly into your hands, curling your toes and straightening your legs. Push your rear toward the ceiling to effectively arching your back as you move your chest toward your legs, but don’t dangle your head. Hold this position for ten seconds, release slowly and return to a neutral position. Do this three to five times.
Next, perform the upward-facing dog: start lying on your stomach, with your hands next to your hips. Push up with your hands, lifting the torso straight without moving the legs, bending backwards at the midsection. This will stretch your back, relieving another common point of tension. Again, hold each pose for 10 seconds, repeating three to five times.
For the last pose, go easy on yourself with a child’s pose. Start sitting on your heels, then roll your chest forward, bringing your forehead to the ground with your arms stretched ahead of you. Get your chest as low as you can to your knees, and stretch your arms as far as you can. Hold this pose and breathe for another minute or two.