Understanding how exercise works to reduce anxiety symptoms can help you treat – and even avoid – anxiety and panic attacks in the future.
Everyone occasionally experiences anxiety.
You might feel anxious because of an approaching job interview or because you can't seem to stop thinking about something stressful for a few days. That is normal.
However, if you experience anxiety all the time, you may have an anxiety disorder, a type of mental illness that affects 40 million adults in the US.
A few of the most prevalent anxiety disorders are phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
An anxiety condition can wreak havoc in your life, making it challenging to perform everyday tasks, including work, household chores, and social interactions. Watch as Belly Brain's Julie Reynolds shares a few anxiety tips here:
Regular exercise is one of the best non-medical ways to stop anxiety from running your life if you're struggling with it.
Aerobic workouts like brisk walking, dance class, or a bike ride, in particular, can be very beneficial if you have chronic anxiety.
How Does Exercise Help Anxiety?
People with anxiety tend to be more sedentary and engage in fewer vigorous forms of exercise, if any, according to a study 1 done on them.
That's concerning because getting up and moving can do a lot to both prevent and relieve anxiety 2. How? Read on.
Exercise Can Decrease the Symptoms of Anxiety
Common symptoms of anxiety disorders include trouble sleeping, jitteriness, fear, panic, nausea, sweaty hands and feet, dizziness, dry mouth, tight muscles, and an inability to remain calm or motionless.
According to numerous studies, regular exercise significantly decreases these anxiety symptoms 3 to the same degree as antidepressants, and the benefits of exercise may persist longer than those of medicine.
This might happen for a number of reasons, including raising your heart rate alters the chemistry of the brain, making key anti-anxiety neurochemicals like serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and endocannabinoids 4 more readily available.
The fact that exercise enhances your heart and lung health also helps to give you a stronger sense of overall well-being and can assist to reduce anxious feelings.
Regular Exercise Is Linked to Higher Energy Levels, Better Mood, and Improved Self-Esteem
Mood swings that fluctuate in intensity and frequency might be brought on by your anxiety symptoms.
Exercise can help you reduce mood fluctuations by increasing the release of endorphins, the "feel-good" chemicals in your body that naturally improve your mood.
Cortisol 5 and other stress hormones that work in the brain to control your motivation, mood, and fear, are also produced less when you exercise.
If your appearance is contributing to your anxiety, exercise can help you lose weight, tone your body, have glowing skin, and much more, which can raise your mood and increase self-confidence.
Exercise Helps You to Avoid Thinking about the Problem That Is Making You Anxious
Every time I'm feeling anxious, I go to the gym, and I can attest from personal experience that it works well to divert me from the draining unpleasant thoughts and feelings that are weighing me down, both while I'm working out and long thereafter because it helps to develop the energy that supports resilience against fear and worry 6.
In addition to helping you focus on something else, regular exercise is a highly effective way to let go of physical and mental tension that has built up over time, thereby lowering your anxiety levels.
How Much Exercise Is Required to Combat Anxiety?
Anxiety symptoms for patients with panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder can be reduced most effectively by performing cardio and strength training for at least 45 minutes, three or more times a week, for a minimum of three months, according to a recent study 7 that was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
Even short bursts of physical exercise, like 10 to 15 minutes at a time, can help if you suffer from anxiety and haven't been exercising or frequently lack the enthusiasm to do so.
Some research 8 shows one exercise session is enough to lower anxiety when it arises.
Work out vigorously, such as running, step aerobics, and uphill trekking, if you can only fit in a few minutes each day to exercise. This will quickly boost your mood.
To greatly reduce your anxiety symptoms, try slowly increasing your workout time to the recommended 30 minutes or more three to five times per week.
To begin working out to enhance your mental health and stay motivated:
- Choose a physical activity that you enjoy. Do you enjoy cycling, hiking, swimming, or running? Pick a workout you'll love performing and a time when you're most likely to do it to get started exercising and improve your chances of staying with it. You might opt to go jogging first thing in the morning, for instance.
It doesn't really matter what kind of exercise you undertake because studies have shown that everything from a quick walk to high-intensity training is helpful. Exercise outdoors or in a green area if you can, to lower anxiety even more.
Once you establish the habit, you can begin including additional types of exercise that will improve how well you manage your anxiety.
- Set attainable goals. Your anxiety may make you feel worn out and unmotivated, making it difficult for you to stick to a daily goal of walking for an hour. Consider your existing circumstances to make attainable fitness plans.
- Determine any obstacles that might prevent you from exercising. Ask a family member or friend to join you on your workouts if you know you won't stick to a regimen if you go it alone because they can keep you accountable and inspired. No problem if you can't afford a gym membership; start by walking around your neighborhood instead; it's free.
- Recognize that challenges will arise. You shouldn't stop working out just because you miss one or two workouts in a week. Get back on track as soon as possible because a long-term commitment to exercise can provide you with long-lasting relief from anxiety symptoms.
- Enlist the assistance of a mental health professional. For advice and support, consult a doctor or mental health expert about your overall anxiety treatment strategy and how a physical fitness program fits in.