Can Exercise Help Treat Anxiety Issues? Things You Need to Know


Chances are you or someone you know is grappling with anxiety. It is estimated that one in every 5 Americans over 18 struggles with anxiety. And we all know that severe anxiety can lead to other mental health issues such as depression, diabetes, and heart issues.

Studies show that exercise can effectively manage anxiety, and depression, and other mental health issues. While it may not completely cure anxiety, regular physical activity has been proven to significantly reduce symptoms, allowing people to manage their distress and discomfort better.

This article explores how exercise helps ease anxiety, fitness tips for those suffering from anxiety disorders, and expert advice on seeking therapy if needed.

How Does Exercise Help Ease Anxiety?

Regular exercise has many benefits in helping with mental health issues such as anxiety. Physical activity triggers the release of endorphins, hormones associated with positive emotions, reducing stress levels and boosting your mood.

Exercising regularly releases tension stored within your body, reducing levels of physical stress and making you feel calmer.

Exercise is excellent for improving sleep quality and duration. Better sleep is closely linked with improved well-being because your body can regulate hormones responsible for feeling awake or tired during the day.

Exercising helps you lose weight and keep fit, which can play a significant role in your getting in shape. 

Exercising also creates a chance to socialize which better helps alleviate your anxiety, especially if it's triggered by extended solitude.

Types of Exercises that Help Alleviate Anxiety

There are plenty of different exercises that have been used effectively to combat feelings of anxiousness or depression among sufferers; here are just a few examples: 

  1. Cardio

These activities include running, jogging, or biking. Alternatively, you can explore indoor cardio exercises with the help of youtube tutorials on cardio online training.

Cardio exercises are ideal for pumping your heart while also calming your mind due to the repetitive motion involved. And studies show that any activity that gets your heart and lungs extra to deliver oxygenated blood to your muscles during an exercise can help ease anxiety.

A study conducted on people suffering from various anxiety levels showed that the group which did aerobics for 30 minutes significantly reduced their anxiety symptoms. On the other hand, those that did stretching exercises had no changes.

However, the more intense these activities become (such as running long distances), the higher risk there is associated with experiencing fatigue afterward, so make sure you work up gradually when building your stamina.  

  1. Weight Lifting Exercises

Weight lifting isn't just beneficial for bodybuilding. It can also help alleviate feelings associated with anxiousness by providing a sense of accomplishment after reaching each goal. 

Building muscle strength while pushing yourself mentally is a great way to accomplish both objectives.

Like cardio exercises, weight-lifting exercises help exert pressure, triggering the production of feel-good hormones and endorphins.

Therefore, if you do not enjoy cardio, try weight-lifting exercises. Start with the lowest weights and build up slowly. And if you don't know where to start, it would be good to procure the services of a trainer for the first few months till you get a bearing.

  1. Team Exercises

While some people enjoy cardio and weight lifting, others love working in a team. This can be done by playing softball, football, or other sports requiring coordination and teamwork.

Therefore, don't limit yourself; explore what type of exercise you are comfortable with and roll with it. You can also try watersport activities, such as rafting and kayaking. These require teamwork and give you an adrenaline high, perfect for releasing endorphins, alleviating anxiety, improving your physical health, and providing an avenue for social interactions.

People struggling with anxiety or any other mental condition tend to focus on how others perceive them, which is social anxiety. And working alongside others in team sports such as football, basketball, or hockey allows individuals dealing with these anxious thoughts/feelings to connect socially. This helps them develop trust with peers, which further boosts depleted self-esteem caused by bouts of depression

  1. Yoga

An ancient practice that is safe for anyone and involves stretching various body parts alongside deep breathing techniques. 

Yoga encourages relaxation by focusing on the present time while taking slow, controlled breaths throughout poses and focusing eyesight downwards towards the mat.

This mindfulness technique serves invaluable purposes aiding people battling against negative thought patterns created over time due to daily life stresses. While it may not completely cure anxiety, it is an excellent add-on.

In a 2021 study, 226 adults struggling with anxiety disorder were assigned to practice Kundalini yoga and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for 12 weeks. And the study found that although CBT has lasting benefits, yoga also showed improved signs.  

  1. Nature Walks

There is something about being out in nature calms your mind. Therefore, if you ever feel anxious, set aside your digital devices, wear exercise clothes and comfortable shoes, and go for a walk.

A stroll in nature provides clarity as it helps you connect to your innermost emotions in a peaceful atmosphere found outdoors surrounded by trees, birdsong, and wind-blowing leaves across the paths, creating a perfect escape.

A 2015 study found that adults who walk outside for approximately 50 minutes feel less anxious and are rewarded with improved memory function. So if you live near a park or forest, make a point of walking outside every day.

  1. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT involves intense exertion bursts followed by rest periods, depending on the type of session you are participating in. For instance, Tabata consists of 20 seconds of hard effort, and a 10-second break repeated eight times. HIIT workout offers an effective solution for fighting off anxieties.

During COVID, a team of researchers in Spain conducted a study with 67 participants divided into two. One group was assigned HIIT and the other moderate-intensity aerobic exercises for 40 minutes, six days a week for six weeks. The results showed that both activities resulted in a significant anxiety reduction.

  1. Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises can effectively alleviate symptoms of anxiety. And we all know that severe anxiety levels can lead to panic attacks. There are several types of breathing techniques individuals struggling with anxiety can practice. These include:

  • Alternate nostril breathing requires blocking one nostril and breathing through the other. Ensure you are seated down, and make sure to alternate the nostrils. Do this for about ten rounds, and you'll start to feel better.
  •  Pursed lip breathing requires you to take deep breaths slowly and intentionally. You must be seated and ensure your neck and shoulders are relaxed. Then with your mouth closed, breathe in slowly through your nose for 2 seconds. Then pucker your lips and breathe out through your mouth slowly.
  •  Resonance breathing: Also referred to as coherent breathing. It is practiced while lying down on your back with your eyes and mouth closed. Then breathe in through your nose. And after counting 6, breathe out slowly through your mouth. Repeat for about ten rounds.
  • Progressive Muscle relaxation: This breathing exercise focuses on relaxing tensed muscles in your body. You are required to lie on your back and stretch out. Then breathe in and tense up the muscles for the first 10 seconds. Then breathe out and relax your muscles for about 20 seconds before repeating the process.

Fitness Tips for People Who Suffer from Anxiety

Exercising can benefit those suffering from anxiety and depression; however, there are a few tips you should keep in mind if you plan on embarking on an exercise regime.

  • Don't Overdo

Don't overdo it while exercising, as this could lead to further exhaustion, which may worsen your anxiety instead of alleviating it. Start slowly and gradually build up stamina.               

  • Set Feasible Goals

Everyone is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. Set achievable goals before pushing past them once you are comfortable with the amount of effort put into each session. Also, remember that smaller successes will eventually add up over time, provided consistent dedication is kept from week after week. 

  • Find Various Sources of Motivation

There are days you'll feel like just lying down and doing nothing. And on days like these, you kick yourself up and exercise. In such situations, it's best to find an exercise buddy who will motivate and remind you of your goals.                  

  • Try Out Different Exercises

Variety is key to living a healthy lifestyle. So don't stick to one exercise; try to mix it up. This week can be cardio, water sports, or other football or hockey next week. Make exercising fun.

  • Seek Therapy

Finally, if you feel like none of these methods are helping ease your symptoms of anxiety or depression, then seeking professional therapy might be the best option available. 

Talking to a therapist can help provide insight into our unconscious thoughts/feelings, which can be appropriately addressed.

Final Thoughts 

Regular exercise has many benefits associated with treating anxiety disorder, including reducing stress levels, improving sleep quality, and giving us control over managing difficult emotions arising from traumatic experiences. Some popular anxiety exercises include cardio, weight lifting, nature walks, and yoga. And if these don't work, talk to your therapist.

For questions on this blog, click here.

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