Marta Montenegro: The Anti-Stress Holiday Workout

The holidays tend to create an overall feeling of joy and anxiety. And, regardless of how much you want to forget about dieting and enjoy grandma’s yummy pecan pie, there is always the thought of how to avoid the extra pounds that seem to come with holiday celebrations.

“When [an] individual encounters a potential stressor such as a traffic jam, there are noticeable signs of increase[d] stress; rapid heart beating, rapid or shallow breathing, perspiration and muscular tension,” according to the Master Fitness Specialist guidances by the Cooper Institute.

The problem arises when the once-in-awhile stressful situation becomes the norm. It’s trouble when [you] lose sense of what really is a threatening circumstance, so our bodies live in a “fight or flight” response on a regular basis. The stress response is intended to culminate in physical activity, so the natural release is body movement.

When the Best Time to Move

Between the extra cocktails, cookies, appetizers and the anxiety of the to-do list during this time of the year, it’s easy to blame the food and drink binge for the added fat. However, the culprit really is the extra glass of wine and the 24-hour state of anxiety that we seem to live in.

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“Stress increases cortisol level. If this hormone is not utilized, the metabolism decreases while fat storage is promoted,” says human behavior expert and life coach Patrick Wanis.

The leading institution on preventative health concluded that although sometimes it’s not the best advice to engage in physical activity immediately after a stressful situation, activity soon after the stress response is important to utilize the stress by products before they become harmful.

“Exercise increases the metabolism, which helps eliminate the effect of the accumulated adrenal secretions”, according to the Cooper Institute.

Lift Your Spirit!

There is plenty of evidence that supports that working out precisely when we feel under pressure helps alleviate stress. Specifically, the majority of the studies have shown there is an aerobic boost up to four hours after the activity ends; little is known about the correlation between resistance training and stress management.

In a new study, “Effects of Acute Resistance Training of Different Intensities and Rest Periods on Anxiety and Affect,” published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, shows that when lifting weights to reduce anxiety, the low intensity combined with a longer period of rest is the most effective when compared to high intensity weight training coupled with short periods of rest.

However, the results between the two styles of weight training tend to level up after 20 to 40 minutes.

So this holiday when you can’t juggle the kids, the long gift list and your nagging relatives, don’t forget to keep moving. You won’t just relieve stress, but also burn some calories. Let’s call it a mind-belly gift.

Stress Less Workout

Under stress: 10-12 reps, 3 sets, rest 60-90 seconds in between each super-set.

Regular days: 8-10 reps, 3 sets, 30 seconds in between each super-set.

The routine is designed in super-set. This is to perform two exercises back to back. Rest at the end of each super-set.

Regardless of the weight, make sure that you keep proper form at all times and that the last two reps are somewhere difficult to perform.

Do this routine three times a week on non-consecutive days.


Under stress: 10-12 reps, 3 sets; recovery time 60-90 seconds.

Regular days: 8-10 reps, 3 sets; recovery time 30 seconds.

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning, coach and master trainer who is an adjunct professor at Florida International University.  Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, combines fitness, nutrition and health  tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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