With the weight of the world weighing down on us this year, more people are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety than ever before. When stress runs unchecked it can have serious negative health consequences leading to things like headaches, problems sleeping, chest pain, and even worse: a heart attack or stroke.
Luckily, there is one thing you can do that is guaranteed to relieve stress and anxiety: exercise.
Exercise and Stress
Exercise is considered by health experts to be vital for mental fitness. When your body feels better, your mind will too as exercise releases endorphins and neurotransmitters that lead to a better mood, better sleep, and improved cognitive function.
Studies have shown that just 5 minutes of exercise stimulates stress-reducing effects and regular exercise yields less overall tension, a stable and positive mood, more restful sleep, and higher self-confidence. All things that indicate less stress in the body and on the mind.
Exercise and Anxiety
Unfortunately, stress is a normal part of everyday life, but anxiety disorders are a little more serious and are actually the most highly diagnosed mental illness today. About 40 million adults in the US have generalized anxiety disorder or GAD. Luckily, exercise can be extremely beneficial to those who experience anxiety as well.
For example, studies show that 10 minutes of walking outside can quickly elevate a depressed mood and lessen the physical effects of anxiety. One vigorous exercise session can quickly eliminate symptoms of anxiety and depression for several hours and a solid exercise routine can help reduce symptoms over time.
Exercise teaches the brain to better cope with stress, leading to active people having less risk for anxiety and depression as well as a better ability to deal with life’s stressors when they come along (because let’s face it, they always do). If you don’t know where to start, try a brisk walk a couple of times a week, find the form of exercise that you find fun and enjoyable, recruit an exercise buddy to help keep you motivated and consistent, and consider hiring a knowledgeable trainer to get you on a workout routine that is right for your body and goals.
- Exercise for Mood and Anxiety, Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being, by Michael W. Otto, PhD, and Jasper A.J. Smits, PhD (Oxford University Press, 2011)
- How stress affects your health. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress. Accessed March 5, 2019.