stress busting fitness tips

Does it seem like no matter how many hot baths you take and relaxation candles you light, you still feel tense and tired? Exercise could be the key to helping you chill out.

It's well known that exercise helps relieve stress, but it's usually when we feel we can least afford the time to do it that we need to workout the most.

There's no doubt that physical exercise has a positive effect on stress and can calm the mind and relax the body,' says Lorna Lee Malcolm, Director of Reebok University UK. 'Big companies that have encouraged their employees to exercise have seen improved decision making, greater concentration and a drop in absenteeism.'

A challenging work-out such as a Body Pump class or a twenty minute cycle will give you time to clear your mind and provide a healthy outlet for pent up tension and frustration. It will also cheer you up as exercise releases endorphins - the body's feel-good hormones.

'After being stuck in traffic for half an hour, a dynamic workout that works the cardiovascular system and raises your heart level, such as an aerobics or martial arts class, can do wonders for stress levels,' says Malcolm.

'Working with weights can also help alleviate stress and ease tense muscles, but it's important to do lengthy warm-up first. A good ten-minute warm up will mobilise the joints, release tension and feed muscles with blood and nutrients. Muscles will then be relieved of stress tension before they go into exercise tension.'

Check out these other great stress-busting fitness regimes:

T'ai Chi
'Conserving energy is more important than spending it,' says Peter Chin Kean Choy of the Rainbow T'ai Chi Chi Kung School in Devon. 'It's about understanding energy and feeling power within the body. A lot of people say that after taking up T'ai Chi they get back a youthful and rejuvenating energy, giving them the strength to fight everyday hassles.'
It's believed that the controlled and meditative moves of T'ai Chi allow your mind to expand and you learn to let your frustrations go. The result is that you begin to develop a more relaxed and happy outlook - which is great in times of stress.

  • Pilates
    Taking time to relax and release unwanted tension from the body is the starting point in any Pilates programme, says Lynne Robinson, co-author of Pilates The Way Forward (Pan, £12.99).

    'One of the eight principles of the Pilates method is breathing. By focusing properly on your breathing you can immediately alleviate stress,' says Robinson. 'Pilates works on a completely different level to any other exercise. It actually changes the way you use your body and the way that you move.'

    The result of this, says Robinson, is greater freedom of movement and a more efficient circulatory and lymphatic system. All of which adds up to a body that is better able to cope with everyday stresses.


  • Yoga
    'Nowadays more and more people are taking pills to help them relax, pills to help them get to sleep, pills to relieve headaches and alcohol to help them unwind,' says yoga expert Barbara Currie, author of Fabulous Shape Forever (Andre Deutsch, £12.99). 'You've got to ask, is this really the answer?'

    By practicing Yoga, says Currie, you will be able to relieve tensions that may have been lingering for ages. 'Life has reached such a hectic pace that it's not surprising that more people are suffering from stress,' she says. 'We are walking around with muscles in a clenched together, tightened state, which affects us both mentally and physically.'

    Feeling fed-up and hassled? Got a headache and tense shoulders? These sample stress-relieving exercises will help:

    1. Standing tall, lift your head up and back so that you stretch your neck. Slowly turn it to the right and then to the left. Dip your head and return to looking straight ahead.
    2. Slowly rotate your head in a clockwise and then anti-clockwise direction.
    3. Take your shoulders back as far as they will go. Lift your left shoulder and relax it down again. Now swap and lift and relax your right shoulder.
    4. Swing your right arm slowly in a full circular movement to free the shoulder. Swing your left arm in the same way.
    5. Raise and relax both shoulders. Repeat ten times.
    6. Put your right hand over your right shoulder and touch your left shoulder blade. Repeat with your left hand to your right shoulder.

    Feel better now?



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