Sure, working out can help you fit into an old pair of jeans or give you a set of sculpted biceps, but it's also the ideal stress-buster — and few things are more vital to your health than that.
"Exercise is the ultimate stress management tool, because it lowers your cortisol levels, which in turn, relax your muscles and make your brain feel good," says Mia Finkelston, MD, a family physician who treats patients via LiveHealth Online.
"In addition to increasing serotonin levels, which can help combat depression and anxiety, working out also produces endorphins, which are like your own personal bag of happiness."
Though most any physical activity that gets you moving and boosts your heart rate will help combat stress (especially if it's also something you enjoy doing), here are seven of the best stress-relief workout classes you can do. Your sanity will thank you.
Few things can melt away the stress of a long day like lacing up a pair of sneakers and hitting the pavement. "Running is meditation in motion," says Josh Emdur, MD, medical director of SteadyMD Running.
"We live in a world filled of distractions, and running allows us to filter out the noise and just be present," he says. "Doing targeted workouts such as hill repeats, intervals or fartleks will help keep you focused and in the zone."
If you don't feel the need to completely tune out the world, running classes are the way to go. "Humans are social, communal creatures," Dr. Emdur says. "While running solo can relieve stress, most runners would agree that a social run with friends is one of the best ways to unwind."
How to Get Started: Like anything in life, it's impossible to go from novice runner to marathoner over night, so start slowly. Try one or two studio (or virtual) classes each week and increase from there as you build your endurance.
Regardless of what your classmates are doing, you can always switch from running to walking. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes and have plenty of water on hand.
Classes to Try
- Mile High Run Club: Mile High Run Club offers studio classes from 20- to 45-minutes long. Or try one of the club's virtual classes, available on the Mile High Run Club app.
- Zwift: Zwift is a virtual running community with workouts and training sessions you can stream online. Blending video games and training, Zwift gives you a truly one-of-a-kind experience. Download the Zwift app to get started.
- Peloton Tread Classes: Known for its indoor cycling classes, Peloton now offers live, at-home treadmill classes, available through the Peloton app.
- STRIDE: STRIDE offers in-person studio classes across the country and virtual sessions, which you can try in your living room.
With its emphasis on breathing, yoga is one of the best stress-busting activities around. "Yoga has been studied as a set of tools for stress management and has been found to be incredibly effective," says Baxter Bell, MD, author of Yoga for Healthy Aging.
Dr. Bell says one reason yoga is so effective at combatting stress is that the combination of poses, breathwork and meditation helps decrease sympathetic nervous system activity — aka the fight-or-flight response.
"Yoga tends to bring our nervous system into better balance, which results in an overall greater sense of well-being."
How to Get Started: Most studios offer beginner classes, which teach basic poses. But if you're feeling shy about your Downward Dog, there are tons of beginner yoga videos online. Search for classes that align with your skill level. And when you're starting out, it's a good idea to have props, such as blocks and straps, to help perfect your form.
Classes to Try
- CorePower Yoga: CorePower Yoga is a popular franchise with locations all over the US. They offer classes for all skill levels, including virtual on-demand and live sessions.
- YogaSix: This franchise offers restorative, power and hot yoga classes. While they offer studio classes, you can also stream them virtually.
- DoYogaWithMe: From beginner to advanced classes, DoYogaWithMe offers plenty of free classes that you can try in the comfort of your own home.
- Urban Asanas: This New York-based yoga studio offers virtual Zoom classes, ranging from easy, unwind sessions to higher-intensity power classes.
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that both boxing and kickboxing pack a serious stress-relieving punch.
A January 2014 study published in the Japan Journal of Physical Education, Health and Sport Sciences found that, after completing a boxing fitness program, participants felt a decrease in tension-anxiety, depression-dejection, anger-hostility and confusion.
The reason? The endorphin-producing, sweat-inducing workout is an ideal outlet for venting life's little (and not-so-little) frustrations.
How to Get Started: Some boxing and kickboxing classes are more intense than others, so find one aligned with your personality and fitness level. Research classes in your area (you can even observe a class), and be sure to tell your instructor that you're new.
Most kickboxing gyms provide equipment, but some may require you to bring boxing gloves, ankle supports and headgear. For class, wear comfortable clothing that's not too loose and be sure to have plenty of water nearby.
Classes to Try
- Rumble Boxing: With the unique decor, it's no wonder Rumble studios are all the rage. But you can also book an online Rumble TV class.
- Gloveworx: Unless you're on one of the coasts, finding a Gloveworx location won't be an option. Luckily, the studio also offers Zoom training sessions.
- Title Boxing Club: You can stream Title Boxing Club workouts on any device, and you can start with try a 7-day free trial if you're not committed to paying a monthly fee.
- FightCamp: Whether you purchase the heavy bag or not, you can punch and kick your way through the boxing and kickboxing classes on the FightCamp app.
At some point in your life, you've probably attempted to shake off a bad day by blasting a little Beyonce. And did it work? Probably at least a little. To take the stress-melting to the next level, though, add movement to your beats.
Even a single upbeat dance session may help combat depression and anxiety more effectively than simply listening to music or even vigorously exercising, according to a November 2014 study in The Arts in Psychotherapy.
How to Get Started: You don't need to shell out big bucks for a gym membership or train with a professional to enjoy dance. Simply cranking up the tunes while you're cleaning the house can do wonders for your mood. That said, if you want to take a more formal approach, dancing classes are a good way to go, as they provide more structure.
Classes to Try
- Obe Fitness: Obe Fitness virtual dance classes have something for everyone, whether you're looking for high-intensity cardio or dance choreography.
- Dance Place: With virtual classes in modern dance, tap dance and African dance, Dance Place will definitely have a style for you — and you can do these sessions pretty much anywhere you have space to bust a move.
- Millennium Dance Complex: If you've scrolled past an awe-inspiring dance video on social media, it was probably filmed at Millennium. This studio offers a variety of classes but is best known for its advanced options.
Pilates has been around for almost a century, but the health benefits are timeless. Combining breathwork and core-strengthening exercises with motion and full-body strength-building moves, Pilates is a complete mind-body workout (think yoga meets aerobics).
How to Get Started: If you can swing it, a private Pilates class is ideal for learning the basics and working on your form. If that's not feasible, though, start with a basic mat class (not a Pilates class that involves equipment, such as reformer classes) or look for an introductory class online or through a fitness app. When you're first starting out, the only thing you'll need is a mat.
Classes to Try
- Club Pilates: You can find a Club Pilates studio just about anywhere. This studio offers classes from beginner to advanced, and you can try your first class for free.
- Yoopod: For those who can't make it to a studio class, Yoopod has streamable Pilates classes you can do at home — all you need is a mat.
- IM=X Pilates: IM=X blends Pilates with other exercise modalities like cycling, yoga and weights for an excellent total-body workout.
- [solidcore]: If you're in the market for a grueling workout, you'll want to give [solidcore] a try. This company has studios across the country and at-home class options, too.
6. Tai Chi
Like yoga, tai chi is a form of moving meditation, which helps decrease tension and promote serenity through a series of graceful, flowing movements and focused breath work, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Slow-paced and low-impact, tai chi is perfect for people whose main fitness objective is mental well-being. That said, don't be fooled by tai chi's seemingly mild manner: This ancient martial art also improves flexibility, balance and strength. Tai chi has been linked to better sleep and improved pain management.
How to Get Started: There are many "tai chi basics" videos available, but to learn proper form and breathing techniques, a certified instructor or class is recommended. It's also helpful to have some knowledge of meditation or mindfulness techniques, as both are often incorporated into the practice.
Classes to Try
- Tai Chi Foundation: Where better to learn this art form than the Tai Chi Foundation itself? This foundation offers online live Zoom classes led by senior instructors.
- The Great Courses: An online multi-disciplinary platform, The Great Courses offers a selection of tai chi classes.
- Body & Brain: Body & Brain hosts hour-long virtual tai chi and yoga classes that teach mindful breathing and concentration.
Whether you're just starting out with a fitness routine or are looking to add something low-impact to your existing regimen, walking is a great exercise — and it comes with a host of health benefits, including stress reduction. Make sure your walks are text- and Instagram-free, though.
"The simple act of mindful breathing during exercise can help reduce overall stress levels and help you experience a better night's sleep," Dr. Finkelston says. "Whether you're running or walking — anything that gets you moving — just the simple change of scenery and break from your typical routine is extremely beneficial."
How to Get Started: Are you looking for a post-work cruise around the city in order to transition out of "office mode"? Or does an early morning jaunt around your neighborhood, where it's just you and the birds, sound more appealing? The only way to discover your ideal walking scenario — i.e. which works best for alleviating stress — is to test out different options.
Classes to Try
- Peleton Walking Class: A jack-of-all-trades in the fitness world, Peleton now offers walking classes that you can stream from the app.
- Openfit Walking: Openfit is a fitness and nutrition app that allows you to stream a variety of classes — walking included.
- REI Walking Classes: A popular outdoor supply store, REI also hosts in-person walking classes and events around the country.
- Japan Journal of Physical Education, Health and Sport Sciences: Effects of acute boxing-style exercise on affect and mood states in young and middle-aged adults
- The Arts in Psychotherapy: Emotions in motion: Short-term group form Dance/Movement Therapy in the treatment of depression: A pilot study
- Mayo Clinic: Tai chi: A gentle way to fight stress
- Journal of the American Geriatrics Society: Tai Chi for Risk of Falls. A Meta‐analysis
- Journal of Clinical Oncology: Tai Chi Chih Compared With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the Treatment of Insomnia in Survivors of Breast Cancer: A Randomized, Partially Blinded, Noninferiority Trial
- The Journal of Pain: The Effects of Tai Chi and Neck Exercises in the Treatment of Chronic Nonspecific Neck Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial
- Mayo Clinic: Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms