This is the second in a two part series on lifestyle factors that may be contributing to anxiety.
In part one we discussed what anxiety disorders are. We also talked about performance anxiety and how many of these strategies are helpful for that, as well. And finally we explored the role of nutrition in anxiety and what foods may be exacerbating anxiety and what foods can help relieve it. If you haven’t read it yet you can find it here: Beating Anxiety - Part One: Nutrition
This week our focus will be on the role of exercise in relieving anxiety.
How Does Exercise Help?
There have been numerous studies on the beneficial effects of exercise on anxiety and depression. Exercising can be as effective as drugs for the treatment of anxiety. Why it works is still under consideration, but there seem to be many possible contributing factors
One possible explanation is that the stress pathway called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, undergoes changes that affect stress reactivity and anxiety under the influence of exercise.
Another possibility is that exercise increases serotonin synthesis, metabolism, and release. Serotonin being one of the major mood hormones necessary to our well being.
There is evidence that exercise stress can affect gene expression that affects the area of the brain rich in neurons that produce norepinephrine – a neuro-transmitter that plays a vital role in the fight or flight response.
Another possible mechanism for the anxiety relieving effects of exercise is by the body’s production of natural opioids and endocannaboids, which have a role in the regulation of mood and emotional responses. Exercise may induce a euphoric state with the release of these naturally occurring chemicals in the body and reduce pain – no weed necessary.
Aside from these physiological explanations, there are also some psychological reasons for the role of exercise in reducing anxiety.
Exposing someone with high anxiety sensitivity to the physiological symptoms they fear, such as rapid heartbeat, in the context of physical exercise may increase their tolerance for such symptoms as the brain soon realizes that there is no serious threat Repeated exposures through regular aerobic exercise may also help in getting used to the feared sensation.
Distraction is often a technique used to help those with anxiety and depress, so it’s another reason why exercise is effective at reducing anxiety.
Likely, it’s a combination of many of these reasons that help reduce anxiety. Whatever the reason may be, it’s clear that exercise is helpful.
How much exercise do you need to get the effects?
Regular exercise is important, so aiming for 3 to 5 times a week.
In a study on college musicians with musical performance anxiety, it was found that those who exercised regularly had lower performance anxiety scores than their more sedentary counterparts.
On a daily basis, it’s been shown that 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise has more benefit than less than 30 minutes, but there didn’t seem to be any more benefit past 45 minutes. However, even 10 minutes daily to start will start providing some relief.
And what are the best exercises?
As I like to say, the exercise you are willing to do is the best exercise. However, a study from the University of Missouri suggests that high intensity interval training seems to have the greatest anxiety-relieving effect compared to steady state cardio.
As always, it’s important to check with your physician before starting any new exercise program and work up the intensity gradually to avoid injury.
If you want exercise ideas and more anxiety busting tips, join our Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice Facebook group.