Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in the United States. They affect nearly 30 percent of adults at some point in their lives.1 National polls also show that anxiety is on the rise.2 Such trends indicate there needs to be a greater emphasis on promoting healthy practices for anxiety management.
The benefits of exercise for physical health are well publicized. However, it is less known that exercise reduces anxiety levels.3 It is important to spread the word that exercise can be a healthy intervention for anxiety management. Exercise reduces anxiety in a number of ways.
First of all, exercise results in changes to the brain that are believed to improve anxiety. Such changes include increased production and release of serotonin and endorphins. These chemicals are believed to elevate mood and reduce anxiety.
In addition, anxiety activates our body’s sympathetic nervous system which secretes adrenaline. This results in physical changes such as a rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, racing thoughts, muscle tension and sweating. Exercise is beneficial by dampening the response of the sympathetic nervous system.4
From a psychological perspective, exercise teaches you to focus on the present. Anxiety is defined as not being present in the moment. When we are anxious, we either worry about the future or ruminate on past events. Exercise teaches you to be in the present moment because nothing else matters but your current step on the treadmill or current lift. Let your mind wander and you will stumble off the treadmill or fail to lift the weight.
Furthermore, exercise reduces anxiety by building self-efficacy. This occurs because exercise, by design, promotes the setting and achievement of goals. Regardless of your level of physical fitness, there is always a goal to conquer. This may…