How Cardio Exercises Reduce Stress in Times of Social Distancing02/17/2021 | Written by Nikos Kaskaras in Fitness & Nutrition Tips
We live in strange and challenging times. The emergence of coronavirus has altered the lives of people all over the globe. At the same time, it has greatly increased the levels of stress. The necessary measure of social distancing led to a drastic change in the daily routines of people in almost every part of the world. Jobs were lost, socialising was banned and a fear of what the future brings has gradually grown. Although the initial measures are now cancelled, it seems almost certain that the second wave of coronavirus cases will emerge again. In times like these, we all need to reduce the stress that comes inevitably. Cardio exercises can be the best remedy for that.
What does cardio training achieve?
If we think of the human body as a car, the heart functions as the “engine” of it. It is the organ that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and removes carbon dioxide and other wastes. It is thus, the most vital of all human organs. This is why cardio training is so significant for human health. Taking good care of your heart is the optimal way of reaching longevity. Indeed, there is a great number of advantages that cardio exercises provide. Let's take a look at some of those.
Increasing the strength of the heart and lungs
The healthy functioning of the lungs is directly related to a healthy heart. Regular exercise is the best way to achieve this. Especially aerobic exercise helps greatly your heart to beat faster and your lungs to work harder. This doesn't have to be too intense. Experts suggest (1) that 30 minutes of moderate practice every day can make a great difference for the health of adults. Such practice can include brisk walking, light bicycling, housecleaning and gardening. Additionally, taking control of your breathing can be greatly effective in keeping your hearts and lungs healthy (2).
But except for the do's, it's vital to be aware of the don'ts: Avoiding smoking and exposing to pollutants in the air as much as possible are definite means for keeping a healthy and stable functioning of your hearts and lungs.
Another great benefit of cardio exercises is the improvement of endurance. Building our endurance makes our daily lives easier. Following a busy schedule that requires moving around a lot, can be indicating our levels of endurance. If we gasp for breath when we walk up a slope or feel exhausted after shopping in a supermarket, then we need to start thinking about how we can change this. All cardio exercise enhance our levels of endurance and increase stamina. You don't need to rush yourselves on intense training to achieve improvement. On the contrary, you must adapt your cardio exercises to your needs, accordingly to several factors such as your age, your medical and physical condition etc. (3)
Helping losing weight
Obesity has been labelled by doctors and health experts as a modern disease. This is true because it is not only one of the main factors of fatality (4) but it also makes daily life difficult. All cardio exercises help to lose and stabilising human weight as they help to burn calories. Of course, factors such as age, weight, gender, body composition and intensity of workout play a crucial role in how fast an individual will lose weight. In all cases though, the positive effects will emerge, sooner or later. Obese people don't need to practice like champions to achieve visible results. You can even start with a ten minutes daily programme from your home (5). Taking the first step is always the most difficult but at the same time the most crucial.
Lowering blood pressure
Blood circulation is a vital factor for good health. Cardio exercises help to reduce any possible stiffness in the blood vessel resulting in lower blood pressure and finally in better blood circulation. Again, as in all previous cases, each individual shall follow a specific cardio work-out based on his condition and needs. The medical community suggests that you shall combine regular exercise with a healthy diet, moderate or minimal consumption of alcohol and normal weight (6). In general, the whole process of reducing stress through cardio exercises is not one-dimensional but it is rather the result of interconnected activities and achievement of goals.
Improving sleeping pattern
Sleeping time plays a crucial role in overall human health as well as stress control. Following a healthy sleeping pattern ensures that some essential biological processes occur. Such processes are the brain's storing of new information and excretion of toxic waste, communication and reorganisation of nerve cells, repairment of cells and restoring energy. Scientific evidence suggests that cardio exercise improves sleeping and battles insomnia (7). Not only that, but recent research has shown that low physical activity and poor sleep are interrelated (8). The same research has shown two other striking facts: Firstly, that approximately one-third of all adults obtain six or fewer hours of sleep per night. And secondly, that aerobic exercise had significantly improved sleep quality in older adults with insomnia.
Improving mood and reducing stress
Human beings are the most complex creatures on planet Earth. Consequently, their mood is highly unstable and depends on various factors. During the social distancing period, it was not surprising that negative emotional symptoms were raised drastically. At the same time, another evident fact was that people started to practice more. You could see more people jogging while many chose the option of working out in their homes. Regular exercise is indeed an excellent way to cope with stress. Studies have shown (9) that it is greatly beneficial for reducing fatigue, improving concentration and alertness and enhancing overall cognitive function.
Best Cardio Exercises for reducing stress
There is a wide choice of cardio exercises for reducing stress in times of social distancing. Except for their objective qualities, the following exercises can be performed individually, making them the ideal activities for both fitness exercise and uplifting mood.
Cycling is an exercise that combines various positive aspects. It is a great physical activity that works out the whole of your body, it gets you out in the open and provides a variety of stimulation as the scenery changes as long as you cycle. Its mental and psychological advantages are equally, if not more, important. A study (10) showed that aerobic and cardio exercises, like cycling, can reduce feelings of anxiety and anxiousness and make people feel happier. It is not accidental that sales of bikes have boomed during the recent quarantine (11).
This is probably the best cardio exercise you can practice for reducing stress. The great difference, compared to other exercises, is that it gets you inside the water. This is great for two main reasons: Firstly, the feeling of moving in an aquatic environment is sensational. It seems like a revelation when you first get the feeling of it around your body. And then, water has a great calming visual and sonic effect. Just think of the amazing sense of relaxation you get just by lying on a beach and listening to the sound of the sea and the waves. It's magical! Furthermore, swimming is the ideal choice for reducing stress in times of social distancing, as it offers a wide range of swimming techniques for all ages and levels.
Running is another great activity for reducing stress. Its simplicity is in inverse proportion to the great effects it provides. You just need to wear your shorts, t-shirt, socks and shoes and you are ready to go. After just a short time you will feel your mind clearing and a sense of happiness as the endorphins will start releasing through your brain. Running was probably the most popular activity during the quarantine due to its simple nature and its positive outcome. It improves fitness, raises energy levels and keeps your body in good shape. Furthermore, running can be significant for building and supporting a healthy immune system because it can help to maintain a healthy weight and improve circulation by reducing blood pressure.
Dancing has been mainly correlated to the Saturday night time. Not without a cause, as it is one of the most satisfying leisure activities. Leaving your frustrations on the dance floor listening to your favourite music is maybe one of the best ways to “freak out” and let all your negative energy and feelings to vanish. Why don't you think then, to embrace it on a more regular basis even inside your home? You just need to play on the music that makes you feel good, wear a comfortable outfit and.... boom! If you are not aware of them, you will be amazed finding out the health benefits of dancing (12).
The previous period of social distancing was a new experience for mankind. Especially for people living in western cities and following a busy professional life with a great number of daily meetings, it came like a shock. Although the social distancing period has now passed, it may come again when the weather gets colder. But this time it will be different. We are now more experienced. Choosing the activity that suits you more in times of social distancing could help you come out even stronger. All the cardio activities I have proposed are low impact exercises so that even unfit or obese people can start practising them. So, don't let these peculiar times get you down. Human will and motivation are the strongest of all and you can lead your life, no matter what the circumstances are!