Exercising after a long day can be a great way to blow off steam and clear your head. But starting a high-intensity workout when you’re feeling super stressed can actually undermine your efforts. A study in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology found that mental fatigue negatively affects physical performance. Because your cognition and muscles are both controlled by your anterior cingulate cortex, when your brain is already tired before you start exercising, there’s a good chance your muscles may be too.
This isn’t to say working out after a stressful day is a total no-no. It’s only an issue if you’re chronically stressed and regularly starting and ending your workouts feeling pooped.
Here are six things to know about stress and exercise:
So, what can you do?
Listening to your body and paying attention to your energy level is a great way to gage what kind of exercise is right for you on any given day. When you’re feeling more stressed than usual, consider more gentle, meditative options like yoga, pilates, swimming, hiking or walking, which help calm your nervous system rather than revving it up. And if you finish your workout feeling totally exhausted, you’ll know you’ve pushed too hard and to back off a bit tomorrow.
While there’s no magic wand that will instantly eliminate stress, there are things you can do to manage it. Here are a few simple ideas: practice deep breathing, start a mini-meditation practice (5 minutes when you wake up and 5 minutes before you go to sleep) and learn to say no to some social and work events to make more room for the things you love. Taking care of yourself in these small ways will keep you healthier and happier in the long run.