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How to Use Exercise for Stress Relief

Updated on January 30, 2013

Relaxation and Boredom

Relaxation is a pleasant feeling. Boredom is an unpleasant feeling. When a person is relaxed they are unburdened. When a person is bored they have nothing interesting to do or think about. People often rest for stress relief only to become bored instead. For instance they sit on the couch watching TV in an attempt to relax but they don't feel relaxed. They feel bored. The difference between being bored and being relaxed is physical or mental exercise.

I can sit still for 20 minutes and feel very deeply relaxed if I do mental exercise in the form of visualization and self talk. Meditation feels great but just sitting for 20 minutes being bored does not. I started exercising when I watch TV. Watching TV became less boring and more relaxing. It is a much better experience if I am exercising. When I go to the beach I get bored if I just stay still so I do a lot of walking and swimming.

You can use exercise to turn a boring experience into a relaxing experience.

Woman exercising at the beach.
Woman exercising at the beach. | Source
Woman paddling a kayak.
Woman paddling a kayak. | Source

Exercise to Reduce Stress

An easy way to become more relaxed is to focus on the moment. You stop thinking of the past and the future. Exercise helps with that. It takes your focus away from thoughts that stress you out. People walk to reduce stress. They walk in the woods, along the beach or on a sidewalk in town. While they are walking and paying attention to their surroundings they are focused on the moment.

It is easy to stay focused on the moment if you walk where there is a lot to look at and hear. I go for a walk almost everyday because it makes me feel more relaxed. Running, biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking rollerblading and other exercises people use to travel long distances can also be relaxing. It can be hard work but it gives your mind a break from things that stress you out.

The first time I biked 12 miles to a provincial park it was exhausting and a little painful but I wanted to do it again and again because it was relaxing. Biking long distances became my favorite way to reduce stress even though it was hard work. My second favorite way to reduce stress is to take long difficult hikes. I also like canoeing and kayaking but I don't have a boat. This year I am going to try rollerblading around a park. These types of exercises have two things going for them. I focus on my body and I focus on my surroundings that keep changing.

Working out is a different form of exercise. When a person works out they don't really accomplish anything besides exercising their muscles. For instance push-ups, pull-ups, and curling dumbbells. People usually start working out to change their body but they may continue to workout because they like how it makes them feel. When a person is working out they are focused on their body and the exercise. The problem with working out is that there is a lot of repetition with the movements and the scenery does not change. It can make the workout boring instead of relaxing. To make it more relaxing workout somewhere with a changing view. For example turn on the TV at home or watch other people exercising at the gym. I often workout while watching TV shows or movies.

If your environment and the exercise is not enough to keep you focused on the moment then increase the intensity or do something new. You can go to a new place, try a new exercise or compete with yourself. Try to exceed your current limits. Don't just go through the motions. It is not enough to use your body. You also need to think about what you are doing. I exercise for stress relief and to change my body.

I am doing a side plank.
I am doing a side plank. | Source
I am training to do handstand push-ups.
I am training to do handstand push-ups. | Source

Strength, Balance, Endurance and Speed

Exercises like yoga are relaxing because they require a lot of focus. Yoga requires strength, balance, endurance and speed. The speed is slow but you control it. Another thing you control is your breathing. Control over your body requires control over your thoughts. You need to focus on your body. Practice controlling your body and you practice controlling your thoughts. You can use that control to relax when you are not exercising.

Improve your physical and mental abilities at the same time while feeling relaxed. Qigong, tai chi and yoga are all very relaxing and they all require a great deal of control. They are even referred to as healing exercises. Stress is bad for your health. Exercising and reducing stress is good for your health.


Discomfort, pain, pleasure and fatigue are feelings that you can experience while exercising. I often experience all of them when I exercise outside or workout at home. These feelings can be really hard to ignore and that is why they can be used for stress relief.

While sitting in my computer chair I lift my body up with my arms and put my legs straight in front of me. The exercise is called an L-sit. What gets my attention the most is the discomfort, pain and muscle fatigue. I pay attention to the feelings and the exercise. My self talk consists of counting and telling myself to keep going. It is a great way to reduce stress.

A less uncomfortable way to use your feeling to reduce stress is to pay more attention to them. Notice the more subtle feelings caused by exercise as you go through the movements. It is easier if the exercise is slow and you focus on one muscle or area at a time.


Sights and Sounds

Beautiful scenery, animals or people can capture your attention. That is why it is a good idea to exercise in beautiful places like provincial parks. I bike and hike in provincial parks because the scenery, animals and sometimes the people are nice to look at. There are also a lot of sounds to listen to like the sound of the waves hitting the shore and birds singing. Those sights and sounds temporarily capture my attention. Then I need new sights and sounds to keep me focused on what is going on around me.

Find a spot where the sights and sounds change or change the sights and sounds by moving to different locations. The sights and sounds should attract your attention and keep it for a while. I took the pictures during my long distance bike rides.

Immerse Yourself

You can use exercise to occupy your thoughts. Relieve stress by keeping your body and mind busy. While you can think about a lot of different things you can't think of a lot of things at once. If you find your thoughts wandering then give yourself more to think about by changing the exercise or the environment. Immerse yourself in the exercise.

There are other ways to try to immerse yourself. For instance TV, movies, video games and food. However they obviously don't work very well. As a way to relieve stress they are less effective than exercise and they can have negative side effects. Your body needs food but it does not need junk food and overeating is bad for you. If you watch a lot of movies and television shows and you just sit there then the lack of movement is bad for your health. Most video games have the same problem and some can make you feel sick.

Moving Meditation

Use exercise for stress relief by turning it into a form of moving meditation. Control your body and your thoughts while paying attention to the movements, your feelings and your environment. Focusing your thoughts can relieve stress. The exercises can be easy or they can be difficult. You can move a little or a lot. Focus on the exercise or on the exercise and your environment. There are lots of ways to do it. What matters most is that your thoughts are focused on the present.

If you want to reduce boredom or stress try exercising. It can make you feel better. Exercise requires time but you can make time. Spend less time sitting still. Exercise requires energy but regular exercise can provide you with more energy. There are exercises to do when you feel too tired to exercise.


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