Any kind of exercise will help when it comes to making us feel good, look good, and live a healthier life. But if you have a particular problem you want to tackle, certain exercises may get faster results than others.
1. If you're worried about something, take a dance class.
Dancing has a clear effect on reducing anxiety, with researchers suggesting that it's because you have to focus on the present moment to do the steps that you're less likely to worry about what's happened in the past or could happen in the future. They liken it to mindfulness practice.
If, however, the very idea of having to follow steps increases your anxiety, changing the lyrics of a song to the steps you are dancing in your head can help, suggests Miss Jane, owner of the Glamour Puss Studio Tap Dancing Academy in Melbourne, Australia. "So 'jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way' becomes 'shuffle, step, shuffle, step, shuffle, step, heel stamp' whenever you're singing the song to yourself," she says.
2. If you're fighting cravings, do some high-intensity interval training.
The more intense your workout is, the greater its impact on reducing appetite, research shows. "We think it's related to a reduction in the hunger hormone ghrelin, which occurs when blood is diverted away from the gastrointestinal tract during intense exercise," says Kym Guelfi, PhD. In her trial, the intervals used were 15 seconds of hard work followed by 60 seconds of recovery. This was repeated for a total of 30 minutes.
3. If you need to solve a problem, go for a long run.
When you exercise, your brain activity revs up — neurons fire between seven to 10 percent faster, while blood flow rises by 20 percent — helping us think more clearly. But to truly tap into your creative side, psychologist Thaddeus Kostrubala, author of The Joy of Running ($16.95, Amazon), says the movement must be rhythmic. It is similar to repeating a mantra during meditation to open the mind, he says. "I think the same process occurs from the repetitive rhythm of slow, long-distance running."
4. When stress strikes, go for a swim.
Seventy-four percent of swimmers say getting in the pool helps reduce stress and tension, reports international market research company MORI. Meditation and yoga expert Rachel Long explains, "When we swim, we enter a state where our sensory world is somewhat shut down and there isn't a whole lot of new sensorial information to process, which enables the senses and brain to have a rest."
If your mind does wander while you swim though, Long suggests taking your thoughts inward. "Focus on the sensation of your body in the water, the momentary touches of air on your skin when you come out of the water, which muscles you feel working, or simply focus on your breath."
5. When you need to sleep better, start doing pilates.
Do Pilates twice a week for 12 weeks and you'll see your sleep improve, according to recent studies at Brazil's University of Sao Paulo. Pilates expert Kylie Edwards says that Pilates activates the body's parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest, repair, and relaxation.
"When doing [Pilates], you switch focus from the sympathetic nervous system, which operates most of the day to handle the stress of work, traffic, to-do lists, and so on, and this calms us, making sleep easier."
6. If you're feeling exhausted, take a steady cycle.
When you're really worn out, try a low-intensity exercise such as cycling. It's gentle enough to not drain energy further, and it will actually leave you feeling energized. Research at the University of Georgia found pedaling for just 20 minutes three times a week at an medium-intensity effort (rated about four out of 10) will leave you feeling reinvigorated.
7. To shed weight, lift weights.
Not only does strength training burn calories, but it also triggers what's referred to as the after-burn effect. This is when you keep burning energy as your body repairs the slight damage to the muscles that occurs as you train.
"Too often my female clients are afraid they will bulk up or become too muscly doing strength training," says personal trainer Dylan Rivier. "This is not the case. The big guys (and girls) that you see flaunting massively muscled physiques train at incredible intensities up to six days a week, sometimes twice a day."
8. If you're down, go for a walk or hike.
Over time, walking has been shown to be as effective as antidepressant drugs in reducing symptoms in people with mild to moderate depression. For an instant mood boost, take your walk somewhere filled with trees.
On days when people spent some time outdoors strolling in woodland areas, researchers found walkers immediately felt less anxious and depressed, and their levels of vigor and energy improved. The best news is that it only takes five minutes of spending time surrounded by trees to get results.
9. To boost your body image, do yoga.
Yoga helps improve body image in healthy women, those with eating disorders, and those experiencing body challenges like breast cancer, studies show.
Nikola Ellis from Sydney's Adore Yoga is currently researching this area and says, "Poor body image has been linked to self-objectification (seeing yourself as a body rather than a whole person) and low levels of 'interoception' — the ability to feel and respond to internal sensations — but yoga has been shown to improve both of these factors."
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This article was originally written by Helen Foster. For more, check out our sister site, Now to Love.