When The Biggest Loser’s Bob Harper had a heart attack in 2017, it changed his life. The personal trainer and author collapsed one day with a severe heart attack. Part of coming to terms with what happened was the fact that it happened when he was working out: A normally stress-relieving activity became something he feared.
“I was looking for a way that I could go to the gym again, work out, and relieve stress, but find a way to do it in a way that would be comfortable for me,” Harper tells Thrive.
Keeping stress levels in check is a vital part of your emotional and physical well-being, and there are smart ways to make your fitness routine a key part of your strategy. Given Harper’s firsthand experience with fitness and stress, he shares a few insights into using your workout as a way to de-stress.
Pick a routine that’s right for you
One person’s stress-reducer may be another’s stress-inducer, Harper points out. “I think that’s such a personal thing,” he explains. “Any kind of physical activity that people are really into can be a stress reliever.”
For example, Harper notes that some workouts — like CrossFit, intense weight training workouts, or going running for several miles — would stress him out, but are great stress relievers for other people. Instead, he does Bikram hot yoga. “That, to me, is such a stress reliever,” he says. “So listen to yourself, listen to your body, and find out what you really like doing.”
You may also find that a sense of community resonates with you most. If that’s the case, choose workouts that let you be surrounded by others in a supportive group. Harper himself has found solace through his work with the Survivors Have Heart campaign, which provides a community for heart attack survivors.
Don’t forget to breathe
In addition to finding a workout that works for you, Harper recommends taking a moment — either during your workout when you’re craving a pause, or before or after it — to stop and breathe.
“Find the time to quiet your mind — all of our lives are so busy and can be so stressful, so just take a moment for yourself,” he says. In addition to working out to take care of your body, taking care of your mind has to be a part of your well-being routine, too. “Find a mindful way of going through your day,” he says.
Part of practicing mindfulness is being able to put things in perspective. That means treating your workout as a timeout from your day, and a gift for yourself. Doing that helps further ease your stress — it’s not a time to get hung up on the fact that you didn’t run as fast as you had hoped to, or didn’t lift as much as you’d planned. “Try not to sweat the big things or little things, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter,” Harper says. “If you’ve got your health and your heart is beating in your chest right now and there is love in your life, you’re doing good.”
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