Life can be overwhelming (these days more than ever). Between work responsibilities, social obligations and family duties, it can feel like you don't have a moment to yourself — never mind a chance to exercise. But a little physical activity is just what you need to shake off some stress.
"Movement can be one of the best choices to manage feelings of overwhelm, anxiety or heightened stress," says therapist Stephanie Korpal, MEd, owner of Marble Wellness, who explains that exercise has an influence on which parts of the brain are firing, as well as which neurotransmitters and hormones are being secreted.
"It brings our biorhythms back to a cadence that feels normal, manageable," she says. "Then the brain can start sending problem-solving thoughts, clarifying statements and messages of calm to other parts of the brain and also back to the body."
You don't have to do an hour-long workout to reap the benefits of exercise, nor do you have to go all-out for a high-intensity running or cycling session. Simply walking for 10 minutes at a time can do wonders for your health, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Try This 10-Minute Outdoor Walking Workout
If the weather is nice and you have a safe place to walk, consider heading outdoors when life threatens to overwhelm.
"Being in fresh air, getting natural vitamin D from the sun and seeing plants, grass or trees adds an element of calm to our brain and body," Korpal says. "There's a dose of perspective you get from being outside — your problems are still there and require your attention, but there's often a sense of recalibrating the intensity of your problems once you're out in the big world."
Lace up your shoes, grab your kids and furry friends and try this short outdoor walking workout from Steven Stonehouse, CPT, director of education for STRIDE, a chain of indoor running studios.
- For 2 minutes, walk at a moderate pace. Aim for a stride that feels fairly comfortable, about 3 to 3.5 MPH, Stonehouse says.
- For 1 minute, walk at a fast pace — one that feels challenging and increases your heart rate, about 3.5 to 4.5 MPH.
- Do 10 to 15 reps each of squats, push-ups, reverse lunges and high planks (option to add shoulder taps).
- Repeat this once more or until you're out of time.
Move 1: Squat
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Turn your feet to point out to the side just slightly.
- Hinge at your hips and bend your knees (as if you were going to sit in a chair) while keeping your chest up.
- Either raise your arms out in front of you at shoulder height for balance or bring your hands up to your chest.
- Once you've lowered as far as your hip flexibility will allow, squeeze your glutes and stand back up.
Move 2: Push-Up
- Start in a plank with your hands under your shoulders and your body in a straight line from head to toes.
- Contract your ab muscles so that your hips don't sag and your back doesn't arch.
- Bend your elbows as you lower your chest to the ground, keeping your hips level. Your elbows should be about a 45 degree angle away from your body.
- Once you lower as far as you can, push yourself back up to a plank.
Move 3: Reverse Lunge
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, arms at your sides.
- Step with your right leg 3 feet behind you and bend your knees until they form 90-degree angles. Your back knee should hover an inch above the ground and your front thigh should be parallel to the ground.
- Keep most of your weight in the front leg as you press into your left heel and straighten your left leg.
- Bring the right leg back to the starting position and stand up.
- Repeat the motion with the opposite leg.
- Aim for 10 to 15 on each leg, alternating legs with each rep.
Move 4: High Plank
- Get down on all fours on the floor.
- Extend your legs back behind you and push up into a plank (think the top of a push-up), creating a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Keep you neck in neutral alignment by looking a few inches in front of your hands.
- Hold this position without moving for 10 to 30 seconds. Keep your hips level and squared to the ground and don't let your lower back arch.
- If you want to, alternate shoulder taps, lifting your right hand to tap your left shoulder, then your left hand to your right shoulder.
Add a Short Stretch Session
If you only have time for 10 minutes of walking, don't sweat it — get back to what you need to do and be proud that you found some time to fit in some physical activity. However, if you have a few more minutes to dedicate to your physical activity, finish up your walking workout with a quick stretch session.
Regular stretching offers a bevy of benefits for your physical and mental health. According to the American Council on Exercise, stretching reduces mental tension and, if combined with mindful breathing techniques, may help ward off anxiety and depression.
Additionally, stretching decreases muscle and joint stiffness, as well as improves blood flow and circulation — both of which may be particularly helpful if you're sitting at a desk all day. Try these stretches:
Move 1: Seated Hamstring Stretch
- Start seated with your legs straight out in front of you, back straight.
- Hinge at the hips and begin to bend the torso forward toward your thighs, maintaining a flat back.
- Keep your hands at your sides and deepen the stretch with every exhale.
- As you hold this stretch, resist the urge to fold over your legs with a rounded back and grab your toes.
- Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds.
Move 2: World's Greatest Stretch
- Begin in a low lunge. Bend your right knee to 90 degrees and extend your left leg straight out behind you, your knee on the floor.
- Place your left hand down on the ground on the left side of your front right knee.
- Extend your left arm straight up toward the ceiling, rotating and opening up your torso toward the front leg.
- Hold here for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Move 3: Arm Across Chest Stretch
- Pull your right arm across your chest and hold it in place with your left hand.
- Use your left hand to gently pull it closer to your chest and further to the left.
- Hold for 30 seconds before switching sides.
Move 4: 90/90 Hip Stretch
- Sit on the ground with one knee bent in front of you at 90 degrees and one knee bent behind you at 90 degrees.
- Lift both knees up and turn to face the leg behind you, keeping your heels planted on the ground.
- Keep switching back and forth, feeling a stretch in your hips.
Move 5: Cobra Pose
- Lie on your stomach with your hands on the floor below your shoulders. Keep your forearms close to your sides, with your elbows pointed up. Extend your ankles so your toes point back.
- Press your hips into the floor, and lift your head and torso, arching your spine upward until you feel a gentle stretch through your abdomen.
- Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds, then lower back down.