How Exercise Can Reduce Anxiety
Dr. Randi Fredricks, Ph.D. is a therapist, researcher and author with a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Doctorate in Naturopathy. Dr. Fredricks works…Read More
You probably already know that if you exercise regularly a good workout can help you feel less stressed and better able to cope with problems. But can exercise help people with significant anxiety? Studies have found that physical activity can not only reduce anxiety symptoms, it can improve quality of life.
Just how exercise helps anxiety isnt known, but researchers believe that a combination of factors most likely come into play. For one thing, endorphins, the bodys feel good chemical, is increased every time we exercise. Exercise probably helps ease anxiety by releasing other feel-good brain chemicals that effect neurotransmitters. Is also increases body temperature, which tends to induce a sense of calm. The act of exercising can build self-esteem and confidence and can provide social interaction when done with others.
Researchers examining exercise and anxiety have recommended that clinicians strongly encourage people with anxiety to exercise regularly in addition to adhering to proven treatment programs. Besides boosting mood, regular exercise offers a host of other benefits, such as reducing hypertension, reducing the risk of both heart disease and cancer, and preventing diabetes.
You Dont Have To Suffer To Get Results
Research shows that moderate levels of exercise are best for most people. Moderate means:
Cant find time to exercise during the week? Be a weekend warrior
A recent study in the United Kingdom found that people who squeeze their exercise routines into one or two sessions during the weekend experience almost as many health benefits as those who work out more often. So dont let a busy schedule at work, home, or school be an excuse to avoid activity. Get moving whenever you can find the timeyour mind and body will thank you!
When You’re Ready To Move Up
Of course, the best exercising benefits will come from more intense exercises. While all exercise is valuable, added intensity will burn away more stress hormones and improve neurotransmitter release. When you feel like you’re ready to increase the intensity, try the following:
- Yoga Yoga is a lot more physically demanding than people realize, but it’s also great for anxiety. Yoga is not only a very healthy form of exercise it also teaches better breathing habits, which are a fairly common anxiety problem.
- Join a Team If you want to increase your intensity level, join a team. Unlike playing sports for fun on your own time, when you’re on a team you have to compete, and when you compete you’ll be exerting more energy.
- Swimming Swimming is more intense than walking, but can be completed at your own pace. You can still go slow if you’re not ready to ramp up the intensity, but the resistance of the water will ensure your muscles are getting a good workout.
- Light Jogging When you’re ready, jogging can be incredibly beneficial. It’s arguably one of the best ways to improve your anxiety, but many people dislike jogging. Remember though: the more you jog, the easier it gets.
All activity helps with anxiety and the more exercise you complete, the more likely you’ll see the results. Those are some examples of how you can increase your exertion without too much intensity.
Read Also: How Do You Help A Person With Anxiety
Gives A Person A Break From Stress
Another theory is called the time-out hypothesis. This posits that exercise reduces stress by providing a break from it. For example, a person may lower their stress levels at work by going for a brisk walk on their lunch break.
Researchers in an older 1998 study tested the time-out hypothesis in a small group of females with anxiety and found that exercising caused lower anxiety levels.
A 2021 study of high school students had similar findings. Researchers found that a 10-minute exercise break during a stressful exam week resulted in lower stress levels and improved cognitive function.
Many studies on exercise for stress relief focus on aerobic activity. This does not mean that other types of exercise, such as weight training, are not effective they are just less widely studied.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , people should aim to get 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week.
People who experience work-related stress may wish to divide their daily exercise into shorter sessions. They can perform these before work, during a lunch break, or after work.
Many physical activities fall into the category of aerobic exercise, but the suggests brisk walking. A person can choose another activity they enjoy, such as:
The authors stated that exercise may aid in treating anxiety disorders through a broad spectrum of benefits.
What Exercises Will Improve Your Anxiety Symptoms
People hear “start exercising” and they immediately zone out. When you haven’t exercised, picking up exercise can be pretty hard. It should be noted that exercise always is hard first before it gets easier – your body needs to get used to the breathing and exertion, and within a few weeks it usually does – but there is no denying that starting to exercise can feel like a grueling task.
There’s good news – you don’t need to exercise intensely. You simply need to get out and get moving.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try to ramp your way up to more intense exercises. For some of the benefits of exercise on anxiety – especially endorphin release – you need to exercise as intensely as possible. But the most important thing you can do is get up and move, and if you simply go play some basketball or go for a bike ride once a day, you’ll see a noticeable difference even without added intensity.
Exercise And Mental Health Benefits
There are many ways that exercise can help with anxiety and depression. Here are some of the mental health benefits that exercise has to offer.
- Makes you feel better If you have low energy due to depression or hyperventilation due to anxiety, exercising can get these issues under control.
- Better sleep Exercising regularly can help you get better sleep, which, in turn, often reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Take your mind of your trouble Exercising can also help you get your mind off of your troubles, which can serve as a temporary relief to the stress that is contributing to your depression or anxiety.
- Increases brain health Exercise can reduce inflammation in the brain and create activity patterns that make you feel better and calmer. Being active helps release endorphins, which can contribute to the runners high.
- Improves mindfulness Being more mindful can be powerful against anxiety. If your thoughts tend to run wild, actually running can reign them in as you focus on the physical intensity of whatever it is youre doing.
Making Time For Exercise
If you have trouble fitting in a workout in between all you have to do, you are not alone! One way to make time for exercise is to combine it with the things you are already doing. For example, youve probably heard the suggestion to park farther away from your office building or the grocery store so you can get more walking into your day. You can also try to take the stairs instead of the elevator, and see if you can shave a few minutes from your lunch break to go for a quick walk around the parking lot of your workplace.
If you are trying to get your teen to exercise more, encourage him or her to join a sports team in place of a club that has a more sedentary focus. You can also try giving your teen more active chores instead of chores like washing dishes or cooking dinner.
Recommended Reading: How To Help A 5 Year Old With Separation Anxiety
Easy Ways To Move More That Dont Involve The Gym
Dont have a 30-minute block of time to dedicate to yoga or a bike ride? Dont worry. Think about physical activity as a lifestyle rather than just a single task to check off your to-do list. Look at your daily routine and consider ways to sneak in activity here, there, and everywhere.
< Move in and around your home. Clean the house, wash the car, tend to the yard and garden, mow the lawn with a push mower, sweep the sidewalk or patio with a broom.
Sneak activity in at work or on the go. Bike or walk to an appointment rather than drive, use stairs instead of elevators, briskly walk to the bus stop then get off one stop early, park at the back of the lot and walk into the store or office, or take a vigorous walk during your coffee break.
Get active with the family. Jog around the soccer field during your kids practice, make a neighborhood bike ride part of your weekend routine, play tag with your children in the yard, go canoeing at a lake, walk the dog in a new place.
Get creative with exercise ideas. Pick fruit at an orchard, boogie to music, go to the beach or take a hike, gently stretch while watching television, organize an office bowling team, take a class in martial arts, dance, or yoga.
The Michael Phelps Experience
Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps discusses the connections between exercise and depression when he opened up about his own mental health struggles. Obviously, just knowing that one of the most elite athletes in the world actively works through mental health challenges should show that working out is not a cure-all for mental illness.
However, by utilizing exercise in combination with medication and/or talk therapy with a licensed mental health professional, you can make great strides toward better mental health outcomes.
Recommended Reading: How To Control Anxiety Attacks
Even A Little Bit Of Activity Is Better Than Nothing
If you dont have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, thats okay, too. Start with 5- or 10-minute sessions and slowly increase your time. The more you exercise, the more energy youll have, so eventually youll feel ready for a little more. The key is to commit to some moderate physical activityhowever littleon most days. As exercising becomes a habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities. If you keep at it, the benefits of exercise will begin to pay off.
Endorphins Are Our Friends
Everyone knows about the endorphin rush you feel after a good workout. Doesnt that rush wear off, though?
According to a University of Toronto study, individuals who are active for 20-30 minutes each day can ward off depression in the long-term. Choose a workout that you love, such as dance, running or weightlifting, and make it a regular part of your routine to not only treat, but according to the study, prevent depression.
Read Also: How To Find Out If I Have Anxiety
How To Start A Physical Exercise Plan
Once you have obtained your doctors approval and recommendations, you will want to decide on an exercise program that’s right for you.
Do you want to take a class? Could it be helpful to hire a trainer at the gym? Do you prefer to go for a walk on your own time while listening to your favorite music? The key to sticking with a program is to find something that you enjoy doing.
When starting a new exercise plan, you may initially feel very motivated. This motivation to exercise can be extremely beneficial in helping you get started on your new exercise plan.
A 2017 study published in Maturitas found that between two and six hours of exercise each week is best for optimal mental health.
Here are a few tips to start and maintain your exercise plan:
Remember Palliative Care Is Still Care
If you suffer from chronic depression or anxiety, you no doubt know you may be in for a lifelong battle. However, its important not to let your challenges throw you into a deeper despair.
Even if combining exercise with your regular treatment doesnt bring a cure, it can lift your spirits for a time and provide some extra motivation. Even if exercise is not be a cure, if it can make you feel better, its worth doing. It is also important for your overall health, which should be plenty motivating.
Living with anxiety or depression, or both, isnt easy. If you suffer from mental illness, you already know how hard it can be. While its not a cure, exercise can be another weapon in the battle against depression and anxiety.
Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.
Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.
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Also Check: How To Know If You Have Social Anxiety
Exercise For Stress And Anxiety
The physical benefits of exercise improving physical condition and fighting disease have long been established, and physicians always encourage staying physically active.
Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.
When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. Or, if your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.
Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
Relationship of Exercise to Anxiety Disorders
Stress and anxiety are a normal part of life, but anxiety disorders, which affect 40 million adults, are the most common psychiatric illnesses in the U.S. The benefits of exercise may well extend beyond stress relief to improving anxiety and related disorders.
Exercise as Part of Therapy
Resources – ADAA Member Experts