Does Exercise Relieve Anxiety?
The cases of anxiety in America are on the rise. People are coping with more stressors in their everyday lives which when combined with a decrease in leisure time may in part be the cause. It is estimated that over 40 million adults in the US have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Exercise can be a great adjunct to therapy for people with anxiety. Multiple studies have shown that it really can be helpful to reduce the symptoms and that this effect can start after only 10 min of exercise.
How Does Exercise Help
· If nothing else, exercise can cause a distraction from your anxiety. It can help you to think of other things rather than focusing on whatever it is that is making you anxious. Many other
activities can function in this way such as reading, listening to music, watching a movie, or doing art. However, exercise has other effects in addition to just distraction which can make it particularly helpful.
· Regular exercise will help to increase your confidence. This may help to give you a boost when you are faced with those situations that cause you the most anxiety.
· Exercise can help reduce any muscle tension from anxiety, in effect decreasing one of the signals of anxiety that you may notice in your body.
· Exercising regularly can help build resiliency which will help you cope with overall life better, as well as give you the ability to bounce back from when you become anxious.
· Exercising regularly can boost the production of the “feel-good” endorphins such as serotonin. These endorphins are chemicals in the brain which serve to regulate and improve your mood. Low levels of serotonin are associated with anxiety.
· Exercise activates the frontal regions of the brain which help to control your amygdala (another part of the brain) which helps us to process fear-inducing things we encounter in our environment.
How Should I Exercise?
There seems to be some question as to how much exercise is needed. Some studies show that as little as 10 min of exercise can make a difference and that the effects from this can last for hours. However, for lasting results, you need to get into a habit of regular exercise. The old standard of 30 minutes 3-5x per week seems to give significant relief of anxiety symptoms.
The preferred type of exercise is aerobic exercise such as bike riding, swimming, dancing, jogging, or walking. Any physical activity really that gets your heart rate up such as many sports would certainly qualify as aerobic. That being said, non-aerobic exercise seems to have some positive effects as well, though just not as much of an effect. Exercises such as weightlifting or climbing a flight of stairs are considered non-aerobic because they do not significantly increase your use of oxygen.
I think it’s always a good idea to choose a physical activity that you like so you will be motivated to continue doing it. If you hate running, then choosing running and quitting after only a few days will not give you any sort of long-term relief. Instead, ride your bike around the park, play a pick-up game of basketball, or play tag with your kids in the backyard- it all counts!
Please note that for most people, exercise can work almost like medication and reduce your anxiety symptoms significantly. However, it is not a one-size-fits-all, some people do not have any symptom relief from exercise at all. Another thing to keep in mind is to talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program. You’ll want to make sure that you’re healthy enough to tolerate aerobic exercise so it does you no harm.
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