How Exercise Can Help With Anxiety
It is no great revelation that exercise is good for us. The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are hard to ignore. Everyone benefits from exercise, regardless of age, sex or physical ability.
Exercise helps to control weight gain, help combat disease and health conditions, promotes better sleep, helps increase libido and gives us more energy to name just a few benefits. But have we really explored fully, the benefit of exercise on our mental health? As a treatment for depression and anxiety?
I have suffered with anxiety for most of my life. I know what a vicious circle it can be to desperately want to feel better but also not want to do anything that will encourage that! The worse I feel at times, the less I think I want to feel better. It can leave you feeling helpless with how out of control you feel within yourself.
As soon as you realise you're suffering from anxiety, many people immediately pursue treatment. But, there is a method of managing anxiety that is considered as powerful as some medicines. It's a method that is not only side effect free. Exercise!
What many people don't yet realise is that daily exercise alone may be powerful enough to drastically reduce anxiety. Studies have shown time and time again that there is an incredibly strong relationship between anxiety and exercise - one that could tip the scales towards living an anxiety free life.
Inactivity and Anxiety:
Studies have shown a very strong correlation between a lack of physical activity and the development of anxiety disorders. This relationship isn't entirely clear, but many of the proposed causes of this include:
1. Unused Energy
One of the most frequently cited reasons for anxiety is unused energy. Your body was made to move, and unfortunately when it doesn't move it creates tension. This can be clearly evident with dogs- dogs that don't get their daily walks often become anxious and high strung, because if they don't work out their energy, that energy turns first into physical tension, and then into mental tension.
2. Increased Stress Hormone
When you feel stress, your body releases a hormone known as cortisol. There's evidence that movement is what uses up excess cortisol, therefore bringing it back to normal levels. This makes sense, because anxiety itself is the "fight or flight" mode. When your body experiences it, it expects you to fight or flight. Inactivity is essentially doing nothing, and that may cause your body to hold onto your stress and anxiety hormones.
3. Exercise as Anxiety Management
Of course, inactivity is not the cause of anxiety for everyone. Some people are genetically prone to anxiety while others have had experiences that shaped their anxiety symptoms. Whether inactivity is causing your anxiety or not, there is also reason to believe that exercise alone can be one of the best ways to manage it.
If you're exercising, then the effects of inactivity on anxiety will no longer be present. Even if inactivity didn't cause your anxiety, it often makes it worse. Exercise reduces the likelihood that inactivity related anxiety affects you.
1. Releasing Oxytocin
The main reason that exercise works to naturally reduce anxiety is because exercise actually has some of the same effects as some anxiety medications. Exercise releases endorphins in your brain, which are your body's natural painkillers. They're technically released to prevent exercise from causing pain, but they also play a role in regulating mood and relaxing the mind.
2. Burning Cortisol
Nearly everyone living with anxiety likely has excess cortisol in their body, as a result of the stress that anxiety places on them. Exercise depletes that cortisol, preventing many of the symptoms that lead to further anxiety, such as concentration problems and fatigue.
3. Improved Sleep
Exercise also tires the body enough that it becomes easier to sleep with anxiety - something that many anxiety sufferers struggle with. Sleep is crucial for anxiety management, to the ability for exercise to improve sleep is incredibly valuable.
4. Healthy Activity
Finally, exercise represents a healthy coping tool in general. Coping is about making sure that you're spending time in ways that are good for your mental health, and exercise is most certainly a way to do that.
Remember to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you haven't exercised for a long time, have chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes or arthritis, or you have any concerns.
Laura Doyle, Mum of 4. Kyle 9, Noa Belle 4, Briar 2 and Milla 12 months. Breastfeeder, co-sleeper, coffee drinker. Staying positive and inspired by the chaos of it all. Follow her on Instagram.