As the holidays approach, you may be tempted by a buffet of delectable items that make their way across your path. Likewise, the busy season of reading, reviewing, and grading your students’ assignments and exams may lead to less of a focus on healthy eating and more of an inclination towards convenient meals—and an increased temptation to indulge in all the treats that find their way to you at parties, in gift baskets, and in the ever-popular vending machine.

To deal with all these goodies, you may be adding some extra exercise to your daily to-do list. But don’t forget that exercise also offers some stress-relieving effects—a great benefit at this time of year.

In their book Stress Management for Life: A Research-Based Experiential Approach, Third Edition, Michael Olpin and Margie Hesson share some suggestions for incorporating some stress-busting activity into your daily routine. We’ve summarized their recommendations below:

  • Choose something that you find enjoyable! If you like the exercise, you’re more likely to do it. Per the authors, note that “Cardiorespiratory exercises such as jogging, bicycling, rowing, hiking, brisk walking, or playing in some higher-intensity sports such as racquetball and volleyball are especially effective for bringing  about post-exercise relaxation.” (246)
  • Consider your goal. For example: if you are wound up and want to relax, choose a correspondingly relaxing exercise like yoga, tai chi, lap swimming, or a long, slow walk. If you want to elevate your mood, tune into your senses during a mindful walk, or, work some dancing into your day. If you feel restless, or you want to get rid of some frustration, opt for a workout like weightlifting, or racquetball, which will allow you to burn off that energy and channel it into a healthier outlet. Feeling tired or lazy? Engage in moderate aerobic exercise, such as jogging or a workout on the elliptical machine, that you can sustain for ten to thirty minutes.
  • Make a plan that works for you. Olpin and Margie Hesson say: “To get started and for optimal benefits, schedule ninety minutes of exercise per week; make it social; make it convenient; make it fun; and if possible, take it outside.” (248)
  • Stick with it. What will help you keep up with your exercise goals? As mentioned earlier, an activity you find enjoyable will motivate you to continue on. Secondly, a convenient form of exercise will help you persist—by choosing something that requires little equipment, extra cost, or travel time (such as jogging or an exercise video, or you’re overcoming another hurdle of resistance. Finally, social support can play a positive role in helping you stay on track towards your goals; consider a fun team sport (like basketball, tennis, or softball), or simply make a regular “date” to walk around your neighborhood, campus, or local park with friends.
  • Don’t overdo it. If you work out too hard, too frequently, or too long, that exercise can itself become a stressor on your body in the form of muscle strain, joint pain, or injury? Likewise, having an overly competitive attitude towards your exercise routine can add stressfulness to an activity you’d hoped would become relaxing. (246-248)

As always, before starting any exercise routine, consult your medical professional if you have any questions about the state of your health.


Reference: Olpin, Michael and Margie Hesson. 2013. Stress Management for Life: A Research-Based Experiential Approach, 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. 


What’s your plan for working some stress-relieving exercise into your busy schedule? Share your strategies below.