Ask anyone you know if they feel stressed, and the odds are good they'll say yes. Approximately 80 percent of U.S. workers say they experience stress at work, half say stress negatively affects their behavior, and three out of four say stress results in headaches, fatigue, and trouble sleeping.
Want a way to combat stress and improve your mood? This one you probably know: Aerobic exercise.
Research shows aerobic training of "moderate intensity" with an average heart rate of around 112 beats a minute -- elevated, sure, but nowhere near the exertion of a HIIT workout -- improved participants' mood for up to 12 hours afterward. Yep: Work out, feel happier. (And smarter.)
But this one you probably don't know: Strength training.
A 2020 study published in Scientific Reports found that participants who lifted weights or performed bodyweight exercises twice a week for eight weeks reported feeling approximately 20 percent less anxious and stressed.
And here's where it gets interesting. As the researchers write:
Due to the progressive increase in weight of the resistance exercise training (RET) protocol, participants engaged in the largest dose of RET at the end of the intervention, when their improvements in strengths allowed them to engage in more intense RET.
Meta-analytic evidence supports a dose-response relationship between physical activity and anxiety epidemiologically and experimentally; consistent with this previous evidence, effect sizes in this trial were largest at the end of the intervention when the dose was largest.
Or in non-researcher-speak, the relatively stronger you get, the more weight you can lift -- and the greater the impact of exercise on stress and overall mood.
But then again, maybe it's not the weight. Sure, you'll be fitter eight weeks into an exercise program. Feeling fit feels good. In addition, exercise releases endorphins, dopamine, and other chemicals that increase feelings of self-esteem and even create positive structural changes in your brain.
Which means you don't just feel better physically. You also feel better about yourself.
Which is the perfect antidote to anxiety and stress.
I know what you're thinking: "Sounds great, but I don't have time."
Yeah, you do. Study participants performed two sets of eight to 12 reps of eight basic exercises. Twelve reps takes about 30 seconds; if you rest for 45 seconds -- why not take short rests to add a cardio element to the workout? -- and the whole workout takes about 20 minutes.
Do that twice a week, and you won't just get stronger and fitter. (Participants enjoyed "significant" increases in overall strength.)
Research shows you'll significantly reduce your odds of premature death from cancer, heart disease, and other health problems. You'll improve your mood. You'll reduce your level of anxiety and stress.
All from 20 minutes, two times per week.
Sounds like a pretty solid why.