When a demanding holiday season leaves you twisted in knots from the stresses of commitments, crowds, shopping, food and entertaining, physical therapist Gopal T. Raghunath, PT MS, DPT, CSCS, has a suggestion: sweat away that stress by making exercise a part of your holiday routine.

“Nearly any form of exercise performed correctly and consistently, such as walking, running, weight training, yoga or Pilates, can be an effective stress reliever, particularly during the holiday season,” said Dr. Raghunath, owner of Buffalo Grove Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation, P.C. “Movement is a potent remedy not only for stress reduction but also for alleviating symptoms of anxiety and mild depression.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, physical activity increases the production of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters in the brain that help you feel good. Additionally, exercise has a “meditation in motion” effect as the focus on physical activity helps diminish stress.

“Exercise also increases energy levels which, in turn, helps combat body fatigue, boost self-confidence and improve sleep, thus imparting a
powerful mind-body connection,” Dr. Raghunath said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week such as brisk walking or swimming, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise such as running, plus strength training two to three days per work which incorporates all major muscle groups.

If you are not currently on a regular exercise routine, Dr. Raghunath offers some helpful recommendations to get you started:

Consult your physician: Before beginning any exercise program, consult your physician to go over any health concerns and obtain clearance to handle the stresses of exercise, particularly if this is your first time starting a regular regimen.

Start Gradually: Setting small, incremental goals that are both challenging and realistic will safely build your conditioning level and allow you to advance to longer, more intense workouts, as well as minimize and/or prevent injuries to keep you consistent with your program.

Use the Buddy System: Training partners help infuse an element of positive peer pressure and competitive spirit, ensuring improved consistency and accountability to your program. Additionally, exercising with a friend makes the journey more enjoyable.

Mix it Up: Varying your routine every four weeks helps break the monotony. Additionally, allowing yourself to explore a diverse set of exercises and activities helps challenge your body in unique ways and improve your overall athleticism and general fitness.

Have fun:Commit to activities you enjoy and which fit your personality. If you’re competitive, join a tennis league. If you’re more the social type, perhaps Pilates or spinning classes might be suitable. If you’re more introverted, cross-country skiing might be an exciting option. Ultimately, exercise should be fun and viewed as an activity that you do for yourself rather than to yourself.

In addition, Dr. Raghunath notes that certified movement experts, like the physical therapists on the Buffalo Grove Physical Therapy & Sports
Rehabilitation team, can help you tailor an appropriate exercise program in line with your strengths, limitations and personal fitness goals.