When you move, consistently, vigorously, a little or a lot, you help your body do what it was designed to do. Pick any activity—yoga, running, dancing, even just walking, and do it often. You’ll reap some big benefits—including help your body detoxify. Your lymphatic system, a whole network of vessels, is the body’s drainage system, and helps remove waste from the blood. But lymph doesn’t get pumped through the system by the heart the way blood does. Rather, it gets moved through other ways, including breathing and muscle contractions—which is why exercise is so critical to the process.
“Exercise isn’t a hobby, something you do occasionally when you have time and are in the mood,” says Adam Perlman, M.D., integrative medicine expert and Chief Medical Officer of meQuilibrium. “It’s not just about weight loss, either. It’s about feeling stronger, more vibrant, more resilient,” he says. “Research has shown that regular exercise is the most important thing you can do to optimize your quality of life today and maintain it in the future.”
But beyond that, exercise can greatly reduce your stress levels. In fact, movement should be part of what de-stresses you, not the source of frustration or discomfort. Wellness expert and fitpro Ellen Barrett says that when reducing stress is the focus of fitness, you’ll experience better results. “The core reason for exercise has changed,” she says. “It’s not only about burning calories. It’s not only about weight loss. It’s about calming the frazzled psyche and caring for the body.”
Here’s how to use fitness to detox and de-stress:
Stay in the now. When’s the last time you tuned in to your body as you were exercising, rather than tune out by distracting yourself? You can experience the benefits of mind/body exercise (a clear head, a sense of calm) when you pay close attention to your body as you move it—the muscles stretching and contracting, your lungs expanding, energy moving through you. “To detox the mind all you have to do is get into the ‘here and now,’ and let go of the mental toxins of past worry and future fear,” says Barrett.
Do something that feels good. Vigorous exercise is one thing—but pushing yourself to the limit in the name of “getting in shape” is more likely to hurt you, especially if you’re not tuned in. “The best tip for getting the benefits of mind/body fitness is to first do something you love doing, rather than forcing yourself to do something you hate,” says Barrett. So don’t run if you detest it, and don’t slog through a yoga class if you find it joyless. “You should love doing it so much that it feels like fun first, exercise second. When you see kids playing, they’re never checking a heart rate monitor.”
Don’t go crazy. If you find yourself completely depleted after every workout, so much so that you can barely function, then you may be serving fitness more than fitness is serving you. “The key is to maintain a peaceful energy level. “You don’t need to go too hard or fast. Think 70 percent effort.” The result is fitness that gives you energy, rather than drains you of it.
Walk more. You can’t beat it for simplicity and effectiveness. No equipment required. When you walk more, you tone the body and boost your cardiovascular health, protect against heart disease, diabetes, and other health risks, fight depression, boost mood, and control your weight. Start easy but remain consistent, adding more steps and miles to your week.
Keep track. The pedometer doesn’t lie. Keeping an eye on just how many steps you take in a day gives you a concrete goal, not to mention a sense of accomplishment as you see the steps rack up. Aim to work up to and then maintain 10,000 steps a day. You can find a pedometer for under $20, or you might want to try a self-tracking tool like Fitbit or the Nike Fuel Band.
Stop sitting still. Fitness doesn’t have to take place at a gym. Find opportunities to move throughout your day, whether that’s getting up every hour to stretch, getting off the bus a few stops early to get some walking in, or taking the stairs. Something as simple as standing up contracts the large muscles of your legs, supports metabolism, and improves your cholesterol, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels. And you’ll feel less stiff at the end of the day.