Exercise and anxiety
Studies show us that if we are physically fit we are less likely to suffer with anxiety.
In the UK, the NHS have said that if exercise was a drug that we could give to people, it would be amongst the most cost effective drugs ever produced.
The benefits of exercise are many, from improved self esteem, a sense of wellbeing, lower risk of disease, decreased risk of depression and reduced stress.
But how much and how vigorously do we need to exercise in order to gain the mental benefits?
It’s been shown that light, moderate and high intensity exercise can all reduce our level of anxiety levels.
Light exercise might be gentle walking, moderate intensity means that you could hold a conversation but could not sing during the activity, while high intensity is where you would be unable to hold a conversation due to the vigorousness of the activity.
The NHS in the UK recommend that we take 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days a week. That could be 30 minutes of brisk walking, bike riding, swimming or tennis.
But what if you are very unfit to begin with?
Don’t allow that to put you off, since if you happen to be unfit currently you could potentially gain the most benefit from taking exercise. In fact, it’s been shown that the less physically fit you are and the more anxious you happen to be, the greater the benefit you can expect from exercising.
This is how exercise helps
- Taking exercise has been shown in studies to lower the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (read: the fight or flight response). Of course in our modern lives there is very rarely any need for this; we don’t have to escape from predictors or fight for our lives, although sometimes when we’re anxious it can feel like that! Exercise calms this response down.
- When we exercise we reduce levels of adrenaline and cortisol in our bodies, these are the ‘stress hormones’ that make us feel edgy and in chronic cases longer term, damage the body.
- When we exercise at higher intensities our bodies produce chemicals called endorphins to help us to manage the pain. These so called ‘feel good’ chemicals can make us feel euphoric (this explains ‘Runner’s high’) with a sense of wellbeing.
- Animal Studies show us that that exercise makes the brain make more cells in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus can become damaged as a result of stress. That this means is that stress can have a damaging effect on the brain while exercise can help it to regenerate.
- Exercise can raise our level of self efficacy, which could help to lower anxiety levels. Self efficacy is our ability to feel we can cope with situations. Albert Bandura, a psychologist, says that when we overcome the difficulties posed while we exercise, we increase of sense of self efficacy, or our ability to feel we can cope with things and be successful. This study found exercising at moderate intensity gives us the best benefits, because we get a sense of achievement without it being overly hard, which in turns raises our sense of self efficacy.
- Having something to distract our attention away from anxiety is another potential way that exercise helps us. A recent study noticed that three activities, having a rest, meditating and doing exercise all had similar anxiety lowers effects, causing the researchers to believe that the art of distraction was the cause for the effects.
Of course there is not necessarily a single thing which is going to improve your anxiety, but adding exercise into the mix will likely do you lots of good and help you to feel calmer.
Right, I’m off for a jog around the park now!
I’d love to hear about what types of exercise you enjoy most and whether you feel it calms you down.
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For more on hypnotherapy for anxiety see www.calmer-you.com/hypnotherapy-for-anxiety