Updated: Jun 6, 2020
Exercise, whether at the gym, at home or on the sports field, can be a brilliant way to help manage your anxiety.
Apparently, when we exercise, science has proved that it releases feel-good endorphins, the natural cannabis-like brain chemicals that we all need to enhance our sense of well-being. It also takes your mind off your worries so you get away from the ruminating (cycle of negative thoughts) that winds up your anxiety.
Cardio is great because it pushes your heart rate up and is the best known anxiety-buster in the game. Cardio exercise includes everything from swimming, running, weightlifting, team sports and High Intensity Training (HIT). It’s anything that makes you break into a sweat, feel your heart race and make you breathe hard.
Cardio reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, according to Harvard Medical School. In turn it stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators. It’s the endorphins that are responsible for the “runner's high” and for the relaxing feelings and optimism after you’ve the hot shower when your exercise is over.
Another study of different exercises found that, among people with anxiety, symptoms dipped the most 90 minutes after a 20-minute high-intensity workout at ‘80% of maximal oxygen intake.’ It’s about breathing hard. Even if you can’t work at that efficiency, aerobic effort seems to be a good plan overall for getting the best possible mix of lowered stress hormones and high endorphins.
Interestingly, it seems that intense workouts over 30 minutes long are better at reducing anxiety than workouts that were less than a half hour. It’s thought that sustained exercise that raises the heart rate and causes rapid breathing for over 30 minutes helped people feel comfortable with those feelings.
That, in turn helps anxiety, because a racing heart and fast breathing are both characteristic anxiety symptoms and exercise teaches anxious people not to fear them. Also, the lower anxiety levels of symptoms, after 30 minutes, seemed to be sustained for a significant period of time after the exercise had finished.
The Best Non-Medical Solution For Anxiety?
Having anxiety can increase your risk for other disorders like depression and it can also contribute to diabetes and cardiovascular problems. People with anxiety tend to be more inactive and do less intense forms of physical activity. The irony is that lacing up your trainers, getting out and moving may be the single best non-medical solution we have for preventing and treating anxiety.
Although aerobic exercise is especially helpful, you don’t have to burn the glutes to get the benefit. A simple bike ride, dance class, or even a brisk walk can be a powerful tool for those suffering from chronic anxiety. It can also help if you're feeling overly nervous and anxious about life and all that it throws at you.
Another study examined how exercise helps to divert you from the very thing you're anxious about. The art of distraction is a brilliant tool for calming down those anxious thoughts.
How Does Distraction Help?
For anyone anxious, their intellect isn't being challenged, and because it's boring, it's going mad in an empty space, and it’s creating anxiety. It’s like when you leave a puppy alone in a house, and it trashes the place because it's fed up, and it’s trying to keep itself occupied. No one’s keeping an eye on it, and it lacks positive stimulation.
It’s being allowed to roam free and scratch up the furniture and chew up shoes. And it’s not having fun while it's doing it! It’s actually having a bad time, and it’s lonely because it’s on its own, and puppies need their pack to feel safe. So, tearing up the place burns a lot of energy and distracts it from its loneliness. Exercise gets that creative brain busy, and anxiety doesn't like a busy brain!
Exactly How Does Exercise Help Anxiety?
Moves your body lowers muscle tension, and muscle tension can contribute to feeling anxious
Gets your heart rate up changes your brain chemistry by increasing the flow of important anti-anxiety neurochemicals like including serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
Activates frontal regions of the brain responsible for decision-making, and this helps control the amygdala, the reacting system to real or imagined threats to our survival.
Regular exercise builds up resources that bolster resilience against tricky emotions.
How Much Do You Need To Do?
There are no studies which definitively map out how much you should do. However, people with anxiety who exercise are better protected against developing more anxiety than those with low physical activity. The bottom line is when it comes to anxiety, the more you exercise, the better.
If you’re just beginning, then you're doing the exact right thing. Some studies show that just one single bout of exercise can help ease your anxiety when it strikes.
It might not matter what type of exercise you choose to do. Everything is effective from high-intensity training (HIT) down to gentle Tai Chi. It seems that and the improvement was noticed regardless of the activity. The important thing is to get moving.
4 Tips To Maximize The Best Outcome:
choose something that you enjoy so you will do it repeatedly, building resilience.
Do something to get your heart rate up.
Work out in a group to reap the added benefit of social support.
If possible, immerse yourself in nature or green space, which will further reduce your anxiety
Other benefits include:
You gain confidence because achieving exercise goals boosts self-confidence
Getting in shape makes you feel better about your appearance
Socially, you get a chance to meet with others; a friendly smile goes a long way
Doing something positive to manage anxiety is a healthy coping strategy and a whole lot better than downing a few drinks or, as I used to do, eat a box of chocolates in one sitting!