College of DuPage Nursing Student Riley May wrote for Healthy Lombard that anxiety and stress are a normal part of life. Exercise has been found to relieve feelings of stress and anxiety and serve as a distraction towards those feelings. Exercising may have a positive effect on anxiety and improve mood making exercise an attractive alternative treatment instead of taking medication. While exercise has not been shown to cure an anxiety disorder, it can relieve feelings of stress.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety affects 40 million adults making it the most common psychiatric illness in the United States. Some studies indicate regular exercise works just as well as medication to relieve anxiety and depression. Vigorous exercise may alleviate the symptoms for hours and having a regular schedule can reduce anxiety and depression. Furthermore, some people respond positively to exercising, others found it did not improve their mood, while some only experienced a short-term benefit.
The Department of Psychology and Institute for Mental Health Research at the University of Texas at Austin reported the use of exercise is attractive to many people because it is free and immediately available, does not contain side effects like medications, or the stigma from taking medication for anxiety, or from seeing a therapist. Most people are proud to say they exercise and take pride in it. Many people may find that exercise reduces the stigma of anxiety improving confidence and thereby making it easier to manage anxiety.
A recent article in the journal, Behaviour Research and Therapy involving the Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Anxiety Sensitivity, involved 54 participants with elevated anxiety who completed a 20-minute treadmill exercise. The examiners identified self-ratings of anxiety, fear of physiological sensations associated with anxiety and generalized anxiety. All of these ratings were obtained at pre-treatment, post-treatment, and one-week follow up. The participants in this study worse a Polaris heart monitor during each exercise session to assess their heart rate. The session began with two minutes of stretching and a two-minute treadmill warm-up. Participants belonging in the high-intensity exercise were then asked to walk briskly or jog at a speed that produced heart rates between 60% and 90%. Each treadmill session was followed by a brief cool down. Each session lasted 20 minutes and was repeated two to four times a week for a total of six sessions across two weeks. The results indicated that both high and low-intensity treadmill sessions reduced anxiety sensitivity although, only the high-intensity exercise resulted in a reduced fear of anxiety-related bodily sensations. This study clearly identified the benefits of exercise in diminishing anxiety, making it a positive solution without the negative side-effects as is the case with medications.
Binder, Elke, et al. “Regular Voluntary Exercise Reduces Anxiety-Related Behaviour and Impulsiveness in Mice.” Behavioral Brain Research, Elsevier, 24 June 2004, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166432804001585.
“Exercise for Stress and Anxiety.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety.
National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Mbp. “Exercise for Mood and Anxiety Disorders: The State-of-the-Science.” Taylor & Francis, www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/16506073.2015.1047286?journalCode=sbeh20.