7 of the best stress-relieving workouts – according to the research

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi
Many of life’s demands can cause stress, like relationship difficulties, work and exams. If you’re feeling tense and on edge, give these stress-relieving exercises a go

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We know that exercise can boost your mood, increase self-confidence and help you relax. But did you know that it can also act as a stress reliever?

There’s evidence to suggest that exercise can improve how you deal with stress. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals that help you to feel less stressed and anxious. Physical activity also reduces levels of the stress hormones in your body, like adrenaline.

Interestingly, moderate to intense exercise actually spikes your cortisol levels, which play a role in managing your body's “flight-or-fight” response. But in this case, the cortisol can be beneficial, helping you regulate your blood pressure during vigorous exercise.

7 stress-relieving workouts

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, step away from your phone, laptop or TV and try these exercises.

1. Yoga

It may come as no surprise that yoga is one of the best exercises to relieve stress. One study found that yoga has an effective role in reducing stress, anxiety and depression.

Yoga involves postures with controlled breathing, which can help you relax and manage stress and anxiety. It can also help activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest, relaxation and recovery.

So, for the days when you don’t feel like going for a run in the cold or dark, find a comfortable spot where you can be alone and uninterrupted. Or join a regular class to commit yourself to a routine.

2. Strength training

You may have considered taking up strength training – also known as resistance training – for its physical benefits. But have you ever considered how these activities can be a great stress reducer?

Strength training boosts the production of feel-good endorphins as well as giving you the feeling of accomplishment for lifting a heavier weight than you did last time. One study found that strength training twice a week for 8 weeks reduced worry and anxiety symptoms among young adults.

And you don’t even need equipment to reap the benefits of strength training. Try common bodyweight exercises, like squats, sit-ups or push-ups.

3. Swimming

As well as being a great full-body workout, swimming is a fun and effective way to relieve stress. Swimming also releases neurochemicals in the brain that make the body feel good. One study found that, compared to running, swimming was more effective in reducing cortisol.

Submerging your whole body in water can also be therapeutic – the repetition of a swimming stroke gives you something to focus your mind on.

4. A brisk walk in nature

We know that the great outdoors can do wonders for your mental health, but research suggests that taking a walk-in nature can reduce your stress levels too. A new study discovered that a 60-minute walk in nature reduced activity in the stress-processing area of the brain.

As well as giving you the opportunity to take a break, taking a walk in nature allows you to breathe in the fresh air, loosen up and move your body and give you time to think.

5. Dancing

If you love dancing, the good news is that this type of physical activity reduces stress. A new study found that dancing for at least 150 minutes per week reduced stress, depressive symptoms and anxiety.

As well as being a great cardiovascular activity, many types of dance require you to get physically close with a partner, which can help release a chemical called oxytocin. One study found that tango dancing may be as effective as mindfulness meditation in reducing stress, anxiety and depression.

6. Something you just love doing

The best exercise you can do for stress relief is a favourite sport or any activity you enjoy doing. Whether it’s playing a game of football or tennis, doing a physical activity can distract the mind and activate neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, which enhance your mood and ease stress and anxiety.

The same goes for any kind of activity you like, such as gardening. There’s evidence to suggest that gardening 2 to 3 times a week can lower stress levels and promote better wellbeing.

7. Stretching

There are times when you just need to take things slow and stretch and breathe. What’s more, it’s always a good idea to warm up before starting each activity and stretch out your muscles to avoid injury.

And if you were thinking of rushing off somewhere after a workout, think again. Stretching your muscles afterwards can reduce tension and relieve stress, as well as help lower your stress levels and bring your cortisol levels down.

When to speak to a doctor

Always speak to a therapist or doctor if you’re struggling to cope with your feelings or symptoms of stress. It’s always a good idea to seek help if stress is negatively impacting your daily life.

Speak to a GP

If you’d like to discuss your symptoms and get help, book an appointment with a doctor.

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