6 Top Stress Cures You Haven't Already Heard
Surprise #3: Go to Extremes
Health experts routinely recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily to relieve stress. In a recent study at the University of Missouri-Columbia, moderate-intensity exercise was shown to have that effect, but high-intensity workouts packed a much bigger and better antistress wallop. Different women were monitored for half an hour doing no exercise, moderate exercise, or high-intensity exercise. While the groups who exercised showed a decline in anxiety (as measured by a standard test called "state anxiety inventory"), the sharpest decline was among the women in the high-intensity group. Additionally, that group's anxiety continued to drop significantly at 30-, 60- and 90-minute marks, while the other groups' levels remained stable.
There are several possible explanations for this result. Intense aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and lungs, and these two vital organs (especially the heart) bear the brunt of the body's physiological stress response. It follows, then, that the more you exercise, the better these organs will respond under stress within reason, says Richard Cox, PhD, one of the study's authors. Another hypothesis is that high-intensity exercise requires all of your concentration, limiting your ability to ponder weightier matters, the way you can when you go for a bike ride or take a brisk walk. Finally, there is the belief that high-intensity exercise ups the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormones. The harder you exercise, the bigger the release.
It Worked for Her: When Nicole Wise, 48, of Stamford, Connecticut, was going through a painful divorce, many people advised her to do yoga. "I couldn't stand the slow pace," she says, "and it gave me way too much time inside my head -- one place I really didn't want to be." Instead, Wise, who was already a jogger, decided to train for a marathon. "The sheer physical demands of training took all of my focus and gave me a total rush. Plus, so much of my life was out of my hands that setting a nearly impossible goal, and then accomplishing it, gave me a gratifying sense of control over my own destiny."