This may sound strange, but if you’re feeling out of sorts, you may want to pick up a Hula-Hoop. Playful activities like Hula-Hooping can be powerful tools for coping with anxiety, according to Adam Heenan, PhD, a psychologist who has researched the effects of exercise on anxiety.
“When you’re doing something that is really fun, you’re distracted and in a good mood, so your worries are not as frightening,” explains Heenan. “Hula-Hooping requires focus. It keeps you from being left with your thoughts or overthinking things.”
The activity also acts as a moving meditation. Indeed, researchers at the University of Miami found that swaying back and forth for two minutes, like you do when Hula-Hooping, calms the nervous system, an effect that lowers cortisol levels by 25 percent and cuts stress levels in half for two hours. The long-term payoff: Knowing there’s a fast, easy cure close at hand helps stop future anxiety spirals before they begin, leaving you with a sense of control that limits worries over time.
If you’re dealing with something more serious, like agoraphobia, joyful movement like Hula-Hooping can also be an effective coping tool. “People with agoraphobia typically have a persistent fear that they will have a panic attack in an environment in which escape would be difficult,” explains Heenan. “Exercise helps people perceive their environment in a less threatening way.”
Activities that prompt the release of endorphins, like exercise and laughing, can also help dampen feelings of dread. To get the benefits, try Hula-Hooping for a few minutes when you’re feeling stressed or anxious.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.