Published on February 6, 2023

How Exercise Can Help Treat Anxiety

Anxiety is our body’s natural response to stress and is the most common mental health problem facing the modern population. It’s a feeling of unease, dread, and worry about even the simplest everyday situations.

Anxiety disorders are often pushed under the carpet, but the truth is that this disorder affects 31.1% of adults in the US at some point in their lives.

There are a lot of healing techniques that help relieve your sense of anxiety, and physical exercise is one of them. Here’s how working out can help you feel less anxious.

Distracts you from negative thoughts

Taking up a new hobby, jogging, getting a gym membership, or just doing some at-home workouts are all effective ways to decrease your feelings of anxiety that are bothering you.

Engaging in some kind of physical activity distracts you from anxious feelings.

The important thing is to make a habit out of it. Being physically active helps redirect your attention from gloomy thoughts to body movements, breathing, and concentration.

An unlimited number of physical activities can help you with mental health. You can try dancing, swimming, yoga, gardening, lifting weights, running, fishing—whatever sparks an interest.

Boosts self-esteem

According to Dr. Joe Rubino, an expert on self-esteem and self-help, about 85% of people suffer from low self-esteem.

For example, the leading symptom of people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is low confidence, feeling worthless, and so on.

This should not be ignored, as low self-esteem can negatively affect our mental health and interpersonal relationships.

Through exercise, though, this is manageable. People who engage in some physical activity report higher levels of satisfaction. A study in 2018 revealed that even 10 minutes of physical activity can boost our self-esteem and help treat anxiety.

The result? People with high self-esteem tend to make healthier and better choices for their well-being.

Activates frontal regions of the brain

Another very important benefit of exercising is that it activates the frontal regions of the brain responsible for executive functions. These regions control the amygdala, an area associated with emotional processes, decision-making, and memory.

The link between physical exercise and mental health is a topic that’s been studied for a long time, and the benefits that it brings are long-term. 

At the end of your exercise section, you usually feel some relief. Deep breaths during exercise actually send signals to your brain and relax your body.

Provides a source of social support

Some people don’t feel working out alone will contribute to reducing the overwhelming feelings of anxiety, and that’s okay. Dealing with anxious feelings is purely individual.

Another benefit of engaging in physical exercise is that it is a source of social support. 

Having social support while working on your anxiety can be of great help. A workout buddy or a family member who exercises with you can greatly influence and accelerate your recovery.

Decreases cortisol levels

Cortisol, our body’s stress hormone, is naturally released as a response to stress or fear. When you go through a stressful situation, your body goes through several stages in order to prepare you to deal with this feeling.

Cortisol is an integral part of functioning, but elevated levels can be harmful to your mental health. Luckily, exercising can help lower your cortisol levels.

Regular exercise, particularly weight training and sprints, is the most effective way to lower cortisol levels.

Final thoughts

Anxiety is a mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. However, there are effective and simple ways to fight against these overwhelming feelings of fear, stress, and worry.

One of them is regular exercise. Engaging in any physical activity brings numerous benefits. It serves as a distractor, boosts self-esteem, activates frontal regions in the brain, provides a source of social support, and lowers levels of cortisol.


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