Sports against stress: You often hear that sport helps against stress. But what’s so good about it? Stress often makes you feel tired all the time and then you should start working your backside off with a sport!

Common situation:

A hard day’s work, this morning you didn’t feel so good actually, but you persevered! Bickering! At home, eating, maybe putting your kids to bed, crashing. On the way to the fridge for some goodies, you remember you had agreed to exercise with some friends.

You pick up your phone and you send a message: “Sorry, it’s been so busy today, and I have so much to do! It’s not a good time for me right now.” You hop on the couch, hang there for a while, and go to bed. You wake up at night, or you fall asleep badly. Your head’s still spinning. The next morning you still don’t feel rested…

Was this so convenient? What would have happened if you’d exercised? Would you have been able to exercise against stress?

Still, you can get better if you go to the gym during stress. But take it the right way. Look for a form of sport that has the right effects and also make sure you have the right intensity. Find a sport that suits you, otherwise it will be difficult to keep up (sufficiently) for a long time.

Below you can read how you can work out against stress.

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Sports against stress

Sport is a good way to reduce stress. Most people who play sports say that they can ‘clear their head with it’ or that it calms them down. Sport improves the functioning and recovery of those parts of your brain that inhibit your feeling of stress and therefore the production of stress hormones.

Two important substances are released during movement: BDNF and endorphins. Both support the hippocampus. The Hippocampus is in your brain and inhibits the production of cortisol (the stress hormone) The other way around, unfortunately: Continuous exposure to cortisol makes the hippocampus less effective. So if you want less stress: make sure that your hippocampus is permanently, positively tuned.

How do you do that? By moving indeed!

In addition, I advise you to look for the stress factors that originally caused your stress. It’s about stress factors in work, private life and body and the way you deal with these stress factors yourself. It is then important to improve your handling of the stress factors, and where necessary to remove or avoid stress factors from your life. It is also a good idea to learn new stress regulation habits, including sports.

Better equipped through sports

By exercising your body becomes tired and you are less stressed. This makes it easier to sit on the couch for a while and you sleep better.

It is not convenient to exercise just before going to bed; then your body is still too much activated when you go to bed. To get a better night’s sleep, it is best to exercise at (the end of) the afternoon.

After exercising you feel relaxed. The worries of everyday life are out of your head, and your body is pleasantly tired and satisfied: time for a nice long sleep so you can get back to it the next day (stress-free).

sport against stress

Feeling better through sport

It has been shown that moderately intensive endurance sports improve overall wellbeing. In short, it makes you feel better. This is very pleasant in case of stress, but it is also very important for people in a burnout. Because of the burnout they often don’t feel very good.

> For sports in case of burnout, read this article: Sports in cases of burnout

By moving, you keep your body in shape, your skin improves, and your muscles become stronger… Not only do you feel fitter, you also look fitter! When you feel powerful, you radiate it, protecting yourself from low self-esteem.

Sports reduces depression

It has been shown that moderately intensive endurance sports reduces depression. These are endurance sports, which are also called cardio training or aerobic training. The effects are so good that in mild or moderate depression it often works just as well as antidepressants. In order to achieve these results it is necessary to work out at the right intensity for 30 to 45 minutes at least three times a week. Read more about the right intensity and a responsible build-up of your (training) load.

A depression can have multiple causes, which can also occur in combination. A burnout in itself is enough reason to become depressed. You then experience that your body no longer works properly, your usual go-getter mentality in solving problems fails, you no longer have any sense and energy for the fun things in life and it often feels as if you are powerless to deal with this misery. That’s enough reason for negative thoughts that eventually become a kind of automatic negative vortex of thoughts; a depression.

It is good to keep an eye out for other causes of the depression. These other causes may require a different (side) approach. Other causes may be, for example, the loss of a partner, a loved one, work or something else that is important to you, traumatic experiences or unprocessed negative childhood experiences. In case of severe depression, it is advisable to consult a psychologist (or psychiatrist).

Sport improves your stamina and your health

Endurance sports (i.e. cardiotraining/aerobic training) improve your stamina. The functioning of your heart, lungs, blood and blood vessels improves and therefore you can transport more oxygen to your muscles. When your endurance improves, you become less tired from exertion and stay fit longer. In addition, sport brings more health benefits such as less risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Someone who is under severe stress or in a burnout has lost a lot of stamina, has less energy and often takes less good care of themselves due to lack of energy and stress. Well dosed sport can reverse this. Strength sports also have health benefits, but in case of severe stress, endurance sports work better in the first instance.

sport against stress

Sport increases your self-confidence and self-esteem

Through dosed exercise and gradual building you improve your endurance and maybe at the same time your strength, agility and coordination. As a result, you have a successful experience: because you regularly work on something, you achieve progress and the one who deserves a pat on the back is you! Furthermore, you will feel more energetic and stronger. That is also good for your self-confidence and your self-esteem. If you achieve such a (sports) result when you are in a burnout, it is often the first tangible result you achieve since your burnout. This is of course even better for your self-confidence.

Sport provides relaxation

You are not only stressed in your head: stress causes many muscles in your body to tighten too much, causing them to cramp. Your legs, arms, neck, shoulders become sore, or stiff. Moving makes your muscles supple and relaxed.

More energy through sport

Your condition’s improving. Not only physically, but mentally as well. You feel fitter and you feel better. You can also cope better with problems, so that you get less stress.

Also read: Why am I so tired: 7 causes of extreme fatigue

A better mood through sport

During exercise, all kinds of substances (e.g. endorphins) are released, which makes you cheerful, relieves stress, and makes you much more positive and enthusiastic. The rule of thumb of 30 minutes of moderately intensive exercise per day already takes care of this. Moderately intensive means that you have an increased heart rate and breathing, and you can still talk well. So you don’t have to sweat and pant like a buffalo! We call this sports against stress: jogging. Watch the video about shogging at videos.

Moving defragments your mind

Head full? And you forget a lot? Then move. Moving causes defragmentation: it cleans up your information and puts it where it belongs. The result is that you have more space left and therefore better remember, and your head is empty again. And so: less stress

sport against stress

Better social contacts through sport

Moving around with your friends, or at a club or association provides social contacts. You hear from others how they deal with stress, you feel connected. Connectedness reduces stress

Exercise increases your metabolism

And as your metabolism increases, you lose weight. As a result, you look better, you feel more confident, and you can handle things better.

What is the best way to exercise to reduce stress?

With endurance sports that involve endurance, also known as cardio or aerobic training, you can achieve all of the above effects. With strength sports you can’t achieve all the effects. In addition, there are many sports in which strength and endurance, and often agility, coordination and speed are improved.

Endurance sports include running, jogging, sporty cycling, mountain biking, sporty hiking, Nordic walking, ice skating, cross-country skiing, etc. Endurance sports involve breathing and increased heart rate for longer periods of time. Many team sports also appeal to other sports condition aspects in addition to your endurance.

Many endurance sports including running can be done in a relaxing environment such as a beach, forest or heath, which helps to reduce stress.

The best training frequency and training intensity

To structurally combat stress and achieve other beneficial effects of sport, a frequency of 3 times a week of moderately intensive sports against stress is best. A more fanatical and very well trained athlete can also play hard sports twice a week and do one or a few very quiet (recovery) training sessions a week. Exceptions are very talented and well trained (top) athletes, who often sport even more intensively.

Moderately intensive exercise is done when you have an increased breathing but not yet panting. You have to be able to talk and speak the whole sentence without breathing. If you have had your maximum heart rate determined (no estimation method, that is less reliable) you can also exercise at 65 to 75% of your maximum heart rate.

Healthy work rest ratio

Healthy sports require healthy recovery. Just after a solid workout, you can’t do the same workout again at the same intensity. In fact, your condition will have temporarily deteriorated. When you have recovered sufficiently, after resting, your condition will even be a little higher for a few days. If you always know how to train on those days, you can move forward.

But, if you start training before you have recovered, you are not back to your old level yet and will temporarily deteriorate again. If you keep doing the latter for a long period of time, your condition will deteriorate, you’ll have more chance of injuries and you may become overtrained (that’s the sport variant of burnout).

For a quiet endurance training about 16 to 20 hours recovery time is needed and for a intense endurance training about 36 to 48 hours recovery time is needed, for heavier training about 48 to 72 hours recovery time is required. Please note: recovery times are strongly dependent on talent and training. You can keep an eye on your recovery by feeling when your muscle pain/muscle stiffness is over.

Another way to find out if you have recovered is to take your heartbeat at rest (in bed in the morning) and you have recovered when it is almost equal to your minimum heartbeat. Your minimum heart rate can be measured in complete rest after a few days without sporting effort).

Someone who has just come out of illness or burnout usually has a very poor condition and level of training; training duration and intensity must be adjusted accordingly.

Exercise against stress? Just do it!

Move around in a pleasant, relaxed environment. For some it’s the moor, for others the beach, or the forest. A stimulating, relaxed environment also stimulates you! And what’s more, it distracts you from your stress!

Exercise especially during your recovery from severe stress. But choose a suitable sport, don’t make it too crazy, do it well, don’t forget to schedule recovery from workouts, also make sure you relax and enjoy it!

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Training and coaching

Milltain provides training and coaching for private individuals and organisations. Our team consists of 35 coaches and trainers who have now helped thousands of people struggling with stress and burnouts.

Milltain for private individuals:

Are you stuck in life because of stress or a burnout? We developed an effective online programme that is fully focused on the complete recovery from a burnout. More than 2000 people have successfully completed this training!

Movement and nature play prominent roles in this training. Recovery is a process that contains peaks and troughs, and that’s something we know all about. Our highly experienced coaches provide you with active support.

Learn more: Stress and burnout coaching

Conquer burnout and stress

Reducing stress and recovering from burnout can be quite the challenge. With the help of our professional coaches, we are convinced that a full recovery is within reach. Our years of experience has taught us what stepping stones will help you reach your goal more effectively and how to make sure the changes you make will be of help to you for the rest of your life. Let’s turn your burnout or stress into your best life ever.

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