Celebrate National Stress Awareness Month with martial arts

April is National Stress Awareness Month, but wellness should be celebrated every day of the year. If you haven't paid much attention to your stress levels, now's a good time to adopt healthy habits for the long-term. Believe it or not, participating in martial arts classes can help combat anxiety. Though martial arts are primarily known for teaching self-defense, the practices of stress-reduction are also elements of protecting oneself. Here are some ways martial arts can contribute to a serene, mindful life:

Slow down
You may already be familiar with Tai Chi as a mode of reducing stress. This ancient practice holds a reputation for being a meditative sport, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's a good choice if you're not interested in competition – instead, Tai Chi exercises allow you to set your own pace, as you focus on calmness.

This martial art is different from traditional meditation, because it requires you to continually move your body, providing physical exercise in tandem with mindfulness. Even with its leisurely pace, Tai Chi can strengthen muscles, improve balance and heighten aerobic stamina.

While providing the benefits of physical motion, Tai Chi practice also teaches breathing exercises. Deep breathing techniques allow you to fully utilize oxygen, and can help maintain healthy blood pressure, noted Harvard Health Publications. Most important, meditative breathing techniques prompt the body to relax.

Re-route your energies
Not everyone wants quiet time. The good news is that high-impact martial arts can also decrease stress levels, while increasing energy and elevating mood. All physical activity releases endorphins, hormones that can help you feel happier. While reflective contemplation is not the focus of faster-paced martial arts, physical activity has a natural meditative effect, continued the Mayo Clinic. Sports like karate and jiujitsu require you to concentrate solely on your movements, allowing you to forget about outside pressures. It's likely you'll feel clear and refreshed after a round of kickboxing.

No matter your speed or style, martial arts can help you build lifelong defenses against stress.