My 13 Favorite Exercises to Relieve Stress

13ExercisesI’ve been so sick lately that it felt amazing to finally get back into the gym last night. Since I’ve started to feel better, though, I’ve felt my tics coming back, and they’ve been a bit worse than usual. Jumping on that rowing machine was like a shot of adrenaline. I felt like I was flying.

When you think of exercise, what comes to mind? I think the general response would be bodies fit for bikinis, and muscles bulging out of T-shirts.

When it comes to mental health benefits, however, the results can be just as huge, even though they might not be as visible. According to Mayo Clinic’s article, “Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity,” exercise can help fight depression and improve mood by boosting brain chemicals. The Center of Disease Control’s article, “Physical Activity and Health,” agrees that exercise is a great weapon against depression, as well as an aid when it comes to sleep (a key component in staying healthy). Georgia State Univeristy’s article, “The Benefits of Exercise” says, that physical activity reduces anxiety and increases psychological well-being.

My favorite article, US New Health says in its article, “7 Mind Blowing Benefits of Exercise,” that regular exercise, “reverses the detrimental effects of stress,” “lifts depression,” “keeps the brain fit,” and might even help fight Alzheimer’s.

MiniweightsWhen it comes to exercise for me, I can physically tell when I need a good workout from my anxiety and the intensity of my tics. When I don’t have much time, 20 minutes of really strenuous activity helps, but the best kind of workout is where I spend forty minutes on cardio, and at twenty more toning with light weights. As euphoric as I feel when I finish my workouts, however, doing the same regiments gets monotonous. Putting on my gym clothes gets less intriguing as time goes on.

That’s why I’ve compiled my thirteen favorite workouts here.

We know that exercise helps relieve anxiety, and I can tell you from personal experience that it helps reduce the intensity of my tics from my Tourette’s. Not all of them are available all the time. (As much as I’d love to hit the Rio Grande for some good rafting, New Mexico isn’t exactly just down the street from Arkansas.) Still, I think having a list of personal options is always good. You never know when you’ll get the chance to try something fantastic and get a exercise high at the same time.

My Favorite 13 Types of Exercise

Baseballe1. Playing Games – Fast paced games like soccer, basketball, and tennis take concentration, muscle control, and quick thinking. When we were children, my parents wanted my brothers and me to be well-rounded in our physical repertoires. We played soccer, flag football, basketball, baseball, and tennis at the park just for fun. Through our games, we learned teamwork, concentration, and we honed our reflexes.

To this day, I love playing games. My husband and I play racquetball at the gym, (I haven’t actually ever won yet.) and we recently bought equipment to play catch with. When we were dating, we played volleyball every week with our church group. Not only have I noticed that when I play a physical game I feel fewer tics, I also find that the time spent with my friends and loved ones lowers my anxiety levels.


Dance2. Dance – I started dancing when I was seven, and dance will be my favorite type of exercise until the day I die (and again when I do it in Heaven!). When I’m really focusing on my dance, my mind starts to work differently.

I’m finally in complete control of my body. Why? Because if I’m doing my best to dance, I must focus on every part of me: posture, stance angles, handwork, footwork, and even facial expressions are commanded to be at attention. The complete concentration it takes to master all of these in addition to the actual balance and routine leaves little room in my brain for anxiety or tics.

When I dance, I’m expressing myself with all that I have, and I’m finally in complete control of me.


3. Swimming – While I don’t do this one too much (My long hair wouldn’t last a week in that much chlorine.), when I do get out and jump in, it’s fantastic. As I have numerous injuries, swimming is a low-impact sport that requires constant physical exertion and motion. Have you tried to tread water for just five minutes? It’s a lot harder than it looks! In the end, it’s a great way to exercise with injuries and still get those muscles moving and that heart rate up.


4. Machines – Yes, I know these aren’t always that exciting, but that’s often because you haven’t given each the machines its fair chance. Chances are, you’ll find at least one machine that fits your needs and gets that heart rate up (and that happens to sit in front of your favorite TV screen at the gym).

  • Bikes – In my experience, this is a good method of aerobic activity when you’ve got a foot injury like I do. There are different kinds of bikes, too. I also have back problems from a car accident years ago, so I use the bike with the back support. Some poeple like the bikes where you lean forward. Basically, if one doesn’t fit your needs, you just try the next one down the line.
  • Eliptical – This is a great calorie-burning machine that works out both the arms and the legs. (However, if you just want to focus on the legs, that’s find, too.) It imitates the motion of running without the impact, so it’s great for people with weak knees.
  • Rowing MachinesRowing Machine – This is my most recent love. While the bike does indeed burn calories with the legs, the rowing machine incorporates the entire body. You’re working out arms, core, and legs without much impact on the feet, and the motion is smooth, so you’re not jolting any one area of the body. As far as my Tourette’s goes, my hands are busy pulling the oar-type bar the whole time I’m on this machine, so they’re not available to tic like they’re tempted to when I’m on the bike. (A slight warning, if you’ve got a bad back, make sure you’re using your core on this one. Don’t pull with your back!)


5. Running/Jogging/Walking – Before I broke a bone in my foot in high school, I loved to run. Running is one of the best ways to burn calories and get that cardiovascular system pumping. A great thing about running is that it’s free! You don’t need a gym membership! When I did run, I remember it making me feel limitless. I could run by body until it was haggard, and it was as if I was running from my tics.


DVDs6. DVDs – I won’t lie, sometimes I don’t feel like going to the gym. I used to look down on people who worked out with videos. “If you’re confined to your living room, you can’t really be doing that much,” I would scoff. Then I met Jillian Michaels… and realized how incredibly stupid I was (and how weak I felt, despite my regular visits to the gym).

A little note of relief: If you have injuries like mine, a great thing about doing workout videos at home is that you can change the workout if you can’t do what they’re doing on the TV screen. When Jillian’s doing some crazy version of a situp that would kill my back, I switch to Bicycle Crunches. If my Dancing with the Stars DVD has a move that puts too much pressure on my feet, I do a different dance move.

Whichever version of a workout video you choose, it’s great to know you can make a one-time purchase and have a trainer for life. I know I’ll be using these when I have kids and they don’t want to come to the gym with me. And when I get bored of one, all I have to do is switch to the next DVD.


Hiking7. Hiking – I finally bought some good hiking shoes this weekend, stuffed my Dr. Scholl’s inserts into them, and went on three hikes with Hubby and some friends from church. And man, I can tell you that by the time we were done, I was sweaty, my legs barely worked, I probably stank to high heavens…and my body was happy. I had pushed it to its limit, so it was having to pull energy from my seemingly bottomless reserves that are stored for my tics. Hello, Tired and Achey. Goodbye, Tics!


Climbing8. Rock Climbing – Akin to hiking, this sport takes a ton of concentration and unusual muscle contractions. You quickly realize which muscles you aren’t hitting at the gym. The great thing about rock climbing is that you can do it outdoors, or you can find one of those sports centers with indoor rock walls. I’ve done both, and they’re both exhausting…which is the wonderful part of it. This is another sport that really requires you to focus every part of your body and brain. When you get to the top, you feel like you’ve done something that would make your anscestors proud. (You know, the ones that actually had to chase things to eat and not be eaten?)


9. Martial Arts – I’ve always wished I could do Martial Arts, but my feet problems prevented it. The rest of my family, however, excelled in them. Martial Arts require so much mental discipline, physical strength, balance, and stamina that they hit every area of the body and brain that (in my experience) must be exerted in order to relieve stress and tics.

Besides, knowing you could fight off a mugger is just so freakin’ cool.


sledding10. Snowboarding – I love to snowboard. I’m actually really good at it, too. Except for the part where you have to stop at the bottom of the hill. Aside from that minute problem, I’ve found that every time I hit a slope with a board, I’ve been successfully sore and exhausted at the end of the day in a very satisfying way. Snowboarding takes complete control of the body, as one wrong move can completely throw your balance. I know I sound like a broken record, but the more focus a sport takes, the more likely you are to lose your tics and anxiety in the midst of it.

Note: Yes, I know this is a picture of me sledding. I just couldn’t find a snowboarding picture. Would you believe me if I told you I’m better at snowboarding?


11. Rollerblading – I rollerbladed a bit when I was younger, but because of my being prone to accidental injury, my parents made me stop until I graduated from my dance studio. When I picked it up againin college, I found it to be a great way to let off steam. We had an exercise track near our neighborhood, and when I had a bad day at school or work, I’d strap on my helmet and pads, and I’d hit the asphalt. Rollerblading is a great way to think, as it isn’t quite as strenuous as some of the other activities. Still, it requires enough balance that I can’t tic. If I tic, I lose my balance and crash into bushes and rocks. Mental discipline is learned faster when the threat of iminent injury looms.


Rafting12. Whitewater Rafting/Canoeing – Again, this one isn’t available to many people much of the time, but if you ever get the chance to go whitewater rafting or canoeing, I would highly suggest snatching it up. Depending on the level of rapids you take (with a one being the lowest, and a five being the highest), you’ll get a pretty good upper and lower body workout. Your legs must work to keep you in the boat, and your core and upper body will be working to paddle you in the right direction. As with all sports, you’ll definitely need a professional to teach you how to wind up and down the rapids, but when you get the hang of it, the physical exertion and the experience of riding the river is totally worth it.


13. Group Classes – It seems gyms are coming up with more ideas for these every year. My favorite is Zumba. My mom likes Ballet Booty Barre classes (from what I gather, ballet strengthening exercises without the actual ballet) at her gym, and my dad and brother like spin classes. If you have a hard time feeling motivated to work out hard, there’s something about working out with other people that can help you stay committed.



It’s really hard to go wrong when choosing what type of workout is right for you. The important thing is that you get out there and do it! And don’t be afraid to mix it up! By changing your workout styles and regiments, you’re more likely to stay interested and continue to grow and learn. As we saw at the beginning, the mental health benefits are obvious. And not only will you feel better on the inside, but if you couple it with a healthy diet, you’ll look and feel better on the outside, too.

So what kind of exercise do you prefer? Please share your favorite form of exercise in the comment box below. Also, don’t forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter for free resources of neurological disorder, education, and encouragement (and a thank you gift for signing up!).

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