Everyone knows that exercise is good for our physical health. Did you know exercise is also great for mental health? Yes – you can even reduce anxiety through movement!
Exercise increases chemicals in the brain like dopamine and epinephrine, which improve our mood. Exercise can also reduce our stress response up to 24 hours later.
The physiological reactions when we exercise are very similar to those that happen when we’re anxious – the heart rate and breathing rate increase, we sweat, our muscles tense…
So when we exercise, our brain develops a new association with that state of mind that feels good. And we may experience reduced fear and intensity when our bodies do go into an anxious state.
Now that you understand why movement helps anxiety and mood, here are three tips that explain how to exercise for anxiety management.
Do something you enjoy.
Personally, I haven’t had a gym membership in several years. Why? Because I hate going to the gym. Why spend money on a membership for something I will never use?
Life is too short to force yourself to do a type of exercise you hate.
Not only that, but also, doing an enjoyable exercise actually yields greater benefits to the brain.
Hate the gym? Try…
- Dance parties
- Walking to and from work
- Rock climbing
- Paint ball
- Laser tag
- Intramural sports
- Dog walking
- Chasing after small children
- Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
Go at your own pace.
There are plenty of articles out there that say you should get x many minutes of cardio at y intensity to yield z benefits. Please read these with a grain of salt.
For one thing, scientific results are mixed – there’s not one simple answer. And for another thing, many of these “magic” formulas don’t take into account important factors like age, health risks, chronic pain, etc.
Trust that any exercise you do – high intensity, low intensity, long, short – will be beneficial to your mood.
When it comes to exercise, like most things, consistency is key.
Experts find that chronic exercise is as effective for changing serotonin levels in the brain as anti-depressants.
(To be clear, that does not mean you should stop taking your psychiatric medications. It does emphasize how effective ongoing exercise really is for people with anxiety, depression, and stress).
Trouble Staying Consistent?
- Find an accountability buddy
- Post updates on Instagram or Twitter about your exercise
- Develop and follow a weekly schedule
- Track your weekly schedule to hold yourself accountable
- Remember what makes consistent exercise important to you
- Reward yourself for consistency
Has movement helped your anxiety? Tell us about it in the comments! And if you think this post could help someone, please share!
Rebecca Ogle is a licensed therapist who practices teletherapy in Illinois. Rebecca empowers therapy clients to cope with anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and burnout using their natural strengths and inner wisdom.