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Manage Stress with Exercise

According to the APA survey, we get it -- we know that stress is bad for us. We realize we should live more stress-free lives. Yet many of us feel helpless to do anything about it.

"The double-whammy part of this," says Nordal, who helped develop the APA survey, "is that when you do get stressed, you are less likely to have the internal resources to get yourself moving to do something about your stress."

That's why taking small, realistic steps can get you started in the right direction. So what's the first thing you should do? Nordal and McEwen have a simple recommendation: go for a walk.

Walking is the simplest way to get regular exercise, but any type of regular physical activity is a proven stress-buster and mood enhancer. "Don't sit still, get up move around, fidget, do things, walk around, work standing up," McEwen says. Every bit helps.

Stress Management Tips

It’s impossible to completely avoid stressful situations. But you can learn how to manage stress. Try these tips for stress-free days:

  • Get enough sleep and eat a healthy diet. Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night so you have the energy to cope with stressful situations. Fill up and fuel your body with healthy choices rather than getting bogged down by high-fat comfort foods.
  • Nurture close relationships. Often, we don't appreciate how important friends and family can be for good health, says Nordal. "For example, we know that older adults live longer, happier lives if they're partnered."
  • Learn to say "no." This can be hard for many people, but saying no to one extra task at work or to that volunteer project can give you breathing room for other things in life.
  • Learn to let go. Remember, the sky won't fall if you wait another day to do laundry, clean the bathrooms, or write that thank-you note.
  • Try new ways to relax. Some studies have found that yoga, meditation, and relaxation exercises may help reduce stress in people. Yoga will also help build strength and flexibility.
  • Get help if you need it. If you can't get seem to get relief from under stress and nothing seems to help, talk with a counselor.

"A lot of things related to stress come down to lifestyle and choices that people make," says McEwen. By taking time for the basics: a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, regular exercise, and strong social connections, you'll have the resources you need to help tackle whatever life throws your way.