Can exercise help treat anxiety?

Chances are that you, or someone you know is dealing with anxiety. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. On average, one in four people – one in three women and one in five men will experience anxiety at some stage in their life. In a 12-month period, over 2 million Australia’s experience anxiety.

The toll of anxiety can be quite high, not only does it increase a person’s risk for developing other mental health conditions such as depression but can also increase one’s risk for the occurrence of chronic diseases. One sobering study shows that people with anxiety tend to be a lot more sedentary and do less intense forms of physical activity – if any. This is quite ironic, because lacing up your runners, grabbing your headphones and getting out and about may by the single best nonmedical solution we have for preventing and treating anxiety.

So how does exercise help ease anxiety?

  • Engaging in exercise can help take your mind off the very thing you are anxious about
  • Moving your body decreases muscle tension, lowering the body’s contribution to feeling anxious
  • Numerous studies have shown that exercise improves one’s self esteem and sense of well-being.
  • Getting your heart rate up changes brain chemistry, increasing the availability of important anti-anxiety neurochemicals, including the ‘feel good hormone’ – serotonin.
  • Regular exercise builds up resources that strengthen the resilience against negative emotions and thoughts.

So how much exercise is the right amount?

If only there was an easy, single worded answer to this. Studies found that people with anxiety disorders who reported high-level physical activity were better protected against developing anxiety symptoms than those who reported low physical activity levels. In short – when it comes to treating anxiety, the more exercise the better!

Anything that gets you moving can help, but you will receive a bigger benefit if you pay attention instead of zoning out. Try to notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground for example, or the rhythm of your breathing. By adding this mindfulness element – really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you will not only improve your physical condition faster but you may also be able to stop the constant flow of worries running through your head.

Whilst peer-reviewed articles and studies are important, you do not need a professional or certain statistic to know how good you feel after breaking a sweat. Use those feelings and endorphins to motivate yourself to move in some way every day!

 

Channai Graham (B.Sc-Ex.Sp.Sci,Post.Grad.Dip.(Clin.Ex.Phys))

Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) (AES) (ESSAM)

 

References:

Anderson, E., & Shivakumar, G. (2013). Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety. Frontiers In Psychiatry4. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00027

Beyond Blue. (2020). Retrieved 28 April 2020, from https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety

Helgadóttir, B., Forsell, Y., & Ekblom, Ö. (2015). Physical Activity Patterns of People Affected by Depressive and Anxiety Disorders as Measured by Accelerometers: A Cross-Sectional Study. PLOS ONE10(1), e0115894. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0115894