The Case for Calmer, Less Intense Workouts


If you like taking the latest fitness classes, your workouts are probably...

Exercise is one of the best ways to relieve stress: A good workout has been shown to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, help you feel calmer, and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

"Exercise can alleviate stress, but it can also wear you down and make you more vulnerable to stress if you constantly push hard," Without proper rest, stress hormones such as cortisol increase; levels of lactate (a by-product of exercise that causes fatigue and soreness) tend to stay above normal; and both your resting heart rate and your resting blood pressure can increase.

So how can you tell if your fitness routine is stressing you out? Take these steps to de-stress, stat.

Drop the Guilt

You don't need to do an intense workout every single day. "It's not a crisis to break out of your pattern and routine and do a different workout," Olson says. "It may be the very best thing your body needs to break out of a rut."

Aim for Variety

If you spin and only spin, it's time to switch things up. Any exercise that's aimed at active recovery and relaxation can work wonders in helping you to recover, says Olson.

And while yoga—with its focus on the mind-body connection—is always a good option, it's not the only one. A bodyweight workout such as mat Pilates, which also involves stretching and diaphragmatic breathing can work, as can (if you're sore) a moderate cardio workout, which will increase circulation and help oxidize both chemical markers of DOMS and stress hormones, helping the body to recover, she notes. Moderate swimming or an aqua class that works against the resistance of water in a low-impact way also increases heart rate, breathing, and circulation.

Shoot for a restorative session one to three times a week depending on the intensity and frequency of your regular sessions, Olson says.

Try This "Glitter Jar" Analogy

Brender suggests a fun meditation to free up mental space. Try it post-workout. Lie faceup on the floor with your legs propped against a wall at a 90-degree angle. Imagine a jar full of water (that's your mind). Then imagine piles of different colored glitter (your life compartments) dumping into the jar. (Silver glitter will be for family, red for work, blue for friends, green for stress, and pink for love.) Now, imagine shaking the jar all day long. "This is our mind every day attempting to do it all," says Brender. "When we're always bouncing around going in different directions, the glitter is always moving. If we can learn to take the time to slow down and be still, we can imagine the glitter now falling slowly to the bottom of the jar." This is our mind letting all of the racing thoughts and distractions sink down and be still. Now we have a clear mind and we are more capable of balancing each of those life compartments.