Today was a rough day. I woke up feeling severely anxious. My heart was palpitating and I had an awful sense of dread. I could not pinpoint where my anxiety was coming from. I was desperate to try anything to stop the relentless cycle of anxiety and depression without resorting to medication. Fortunately I realized that the key to immediate relief could be as simple as lacing up my sneakers and going on a walk. If you’re like me and go through emotional ups and downs, then you might ask the following: can exercise reduce anxiety and depression?
Exercise: The Natural Antidote to Anxiety and Depression
In a world where it often feels like we have little control over our own mental well-being, the power of exercise to combat anxiety and depression is a revelation.
What is amazing about exercise is that it’s a simple activity that results in a surge of feel-good chemicals in your brain.
As a result, exercise has the potential to transform your mental health and usher in a sense of calm and peace.
In this article, we will first explore the positive link between exercise and anxiety and depression.
Next we’ll uncover the chemical connection behind this phenomenon.
You’ll learn 5 specific exercises to help manage your anxiety and most importantly, one to avoid.
Stop trying to fight off the anxiety and depression monster on your own. It’s time to get in the drivers seat and transform your mental health.
Can exercise reduce anxiety and depression?
The short answer is yes, exercise can reduce the physical and emotional discomfort from anxiety symptoms.
When I feel anxious my heart start racing, I get short of breath and I feel like the walls are closing in on me.
How about you?
What physical symptoms do you typically experience when you’re anxious or depressed?
The good news is that research has consistently shown that exercise releases a surge of feel-good chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins and serotonin.
These natural substances act as mood stabilizers, reducing feelings of anxiety and depression and promoting a sense of calm and peace.
Additionally, exercise increases the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This protein supports the growth and function of neurons, ultimately contributing to improved mental health.
What’s beneficial about using exercise as an antidote for mild to moderate depression and anxiety is that it’s a natural remedy.
Exercise is easily accessible and free.
Unlike psychotropic medication or psychotherapy which can be expensive and hard to find, exercise is literally at your footsteps.
Understanding the chemical connection between exercise and mental health
While it’s clear that exercise can have a profound impact on anxiety and depression, you may be wondering why exactly this is the case.
There are three neurotransmitters in your brain that have a profound impact on your overall mood, energy and mental health.
The three neurochemicals that impact your mental health
Let’s start with endorphins.
When you’re exercising, these feel-good chemicals interact with the receptors in your brain, thereby reducing pain and creating a sense of euphoria.
This release of endorphins can help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression, allowing you to experience a greater sense of calm and happiness.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Exercise also stimulates the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating mood, sleep, and appetite.
Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression, anxiety, and even seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
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By increasing the production and availability of serotonin in your brain, regular exercise can help improve your overall mental well-being and promote a more positive outlook on life.
Lastly, dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward is activated when you exercise.
Dopamine not only helps you experience feelings of pleasure during exercise but can also enhance your motivation and focus.
This can be particularly impactful for individuals struggling with anxiety and depression, as exercise provides a natural way to boost their mood and build self-confidence.
5 exercises that help manage anxiety
Since I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for as long as I remember, these are 5 tried and true exercises that have helped me.
One of the best exercises to boost your emotional and mental health is yoga.
What’s beneficial about yoga is that it combines physical poses, controlled breathing, and meditation techniques.
Its focus on mindfulness helps you become more present, reducing anxiety symptoms and promoting relaxation.
2. Walking or jogging
If you are running out of excuses to exercise, then just put some shoes on and go on a walk.
Did you know that engaging in brisk walking or jogging can have a profound impact on anxiety?
This low-impact exercise releases endorphins, lowers stress hormones, and provides an opportunity for solitude and reflection.
Whether you prefer a mindful walk in nature or an energizing jog in the park, these activities can help calm anxious thoughts and promote a sense of well-being.
I absolutely love swimming in the ocean, alpine lake or river.
There’s something about diving into cold water that just melts away my stress and anxiety.
Moreover, the rhythmic nature of swimming provides a meditative experience that promotes relaxation and reduces tension.
In addition, the weightless feeling of being in the water can also relieve muscle tension and increase overall body relaxation.
Don’t live near the ocean or a lake? Find a local public pool near you and just keep swimming!
Many of us probably feel self-conscious when we’re dancing.
Unless you’re thinking of competing on Dancing with the Stars, you’ve got nothing to worry about!
Dancing is easy and accessible. You can blast your favorite songs and just start moving your body and express yourself physically and emotionally.
The combination of movement and music triggers the release of feel-good neurotransmitters, reducing anxiety and improving mood.
If you’re more adventurous you can sign-up for ballroom dancing lessons! My husband and I took several lessons and had a lot of fun.
5. Strength training
Don’t worry, you don’t need to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger from the early 1980s.
The benefit of strength training is that you are typically doing slow and deliberate movements, deep breathing, and proper alignment.
Strength training has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep quality, and enhance overall well-being.
More importantly, your confidence increases over time as you become stronger and healthier.
What exercise should you avoid if you have anxiety?
If you’re struggling with anxiety, think twice about high-intensity interval training.
Although this type of exercise burns a lot of calories in a short amount of time, the calorie-torching pace may not be conducive to winding down.
For example, I used to do Crossfit twice a week. I remember that I loved the rush and intensity but I struggled with sleep afterwards and my anxiety did not improve.
After having a session with a biofeedback therapist, I learned that my body does not respond well to high intensity exercise that induces stress and pressure. Instead, activities like yoga, swimming and walking are better.
Although I wasn’t thrilled about making this change, I noticed that I sleep significantly better, my anxiety has exponentially decreased and I feel calmer after I stopped high-intensity workouts.
What I suggest is that you mindfully choose exercises that align with your comfort level, listen to your body and engage in activities that you enjoy.
If you notice that certain exercises consistently leave you feeling more anxious or overwhelmed, consider modifying or replacing them with alternatives that provide a more calming and grounding effect.
Can exercise reduce anxiety and depression?
Yes it can and you have the power to transform your mental health by taking small steps to feel better.
Exercise not only serves as a powerful tool in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms. It also establishes a positive link between physical activity and mental well-being.
From personal experience, I know that my regular daily exercise routine is instrumental in keeping my anxiety and depression at bay.
By engaging in physical activity, you can release feel-good chemicals in your brain that can effectively combat these debilitating conditions.
Throughout this article, we have explored the positive link between depression and exercise.
We’ve delved into the chemical connection behind this phenomenon, and the powerful impact of the feel good chemicals in improving your mood.
Most importantly, you now have 5 exercises specifically designed to manage anxiety and one to avoid.
Don’t wait, lace up those shoes and just get out the door…your mind will thank you!
What are some of your favorite exercises to help boost your mood? What do you think…can exercise reduce anxiety and depression? What activities do you engage in on a regular basis to improve your mental health? Please share your stories and comments below.