In our fast-paced world, anxiety is unavoidable. Some level of anxiety is beneficial because it can drive you to be more vigilant. But too much of it can be harmful. With time, it can transform into an anxiety disorder, a mental illness characterized by excessive worry, overthinking, and irrational fears. These worries and fears can plague your mind, making it difficult to focus, relax, sleep well, and maintain a healthy lifestyle and social connections.
There is no definitive cure for anxiety, but there are many strategies to help you cope. One of them is physical exercise. While many people with anxiety lack the motivation to exercise, hitting the track for a morning jog or riding a bike could be a road to recovery.
How can you motivate yourself to exercise? And most importantly, how exactly does exercise help anxiety? Let’s find out below.
How Does Working Out Ease Anxiety
Exercise is known to benefit a person’s overall health. In addition, studies reveal the advantages of exercise for those having anxiety disorders. Let’s examine a few ways in which working out can relieve anxiety symptoms.
1. Exercise promotes the production of “feel-good” hormones
“Feel-good hormones” are dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. They are called so because they improve mood, promote happiness, and sometimes lead to euphoria. Exercise is a common way of improving the production of these hormones.
Also, as you exercise, your tense muscles tend to relax. Your heart pumps blood to those muscles and the brain, increasing the oxygen supply. These factors also contribute to having a better mood after working out.
2. Exercise provides an outlet for excess epinephrine
Epinephrine is also known as adrenaline. It’s the chemical your body produces during the fight-or-flight mode — a state of your body and mind when you face danger or stress. People with anxiety issues usually produce more adrenaline in their system. That’s why they exhibit symptoms like increased heart rate, heavy breathing, sweating, and panic.
Physical exercise provides an outlet for excess adrenaline. Even though exercise increases your heart rate initially, it improves your heart’s efficiency. Eventually, your heart rate becomes normal. If your nervousness continues after exercise, you should consider seeing a doctor to pursue psychotherapy or get prescribed anxiety medication to feel better.
3. Exercise promotes sleep
One of the symptoms of anxiety disorders is difficulty falling asleep. However, exercise can improve the quality and duration of sleep. A review conducted in 2017 analyzed 34 studies, and 29 of them showed that exercise can improve the quality or duration of sleep.
Exercise clears your mind, thereby promoting relaxation. It also makes you tired to the point where your body desires to rest. Consequently, sleep provides much-needed rest, which helps reduce anxiety.
4. Exercise can improve your social life
Anxiety often drives people to withdraw from others, but exercise encourages them to go out and maintain social relations. Be it workout partners in the gym, or team members in group sports, you have another good chance to socialize.
5. Exercise distracts you from negative thoughts
Anxiety leads to overthinking past, present, or future problems. It leaves you unable to focus on essential tasks like your job. On the flip side, exercise distracts you from the issues that cause you anxiety. It gives you a break from your thoughts, which can help you regain your focus.
6. Exercise relieves pain caused by anxiety
Anxiety can lead to pain in muscles due to tension. It also weakens your immune system leaving your body prone to diseases and infections. On the other hand, exercise helps stretch your muscles and relax them. It also boosts your immunity and can help relieve pain.
What Are the Best Exercises for Anxiety
Different exercises work for different individuals. There’s no fixed workout that fits all people who want to manage anxiety. If the goal is to relieve stress, even walking can be effective for some people. Still, it is believed that the best workouts to relieve anxiety are aerobic exercises such as swimming, sprinting, jogging, cycling, running, and dancing. That’s because these exercises provide cardiovascular conditioning, making them more effective at improving your heart rate.
While most forms of physical exercise can be helpful, outdoor workouts are particularly more beneficial. The outdoor scenery can be relaxing. Plus, you have more chances to meet people and get more distracted from your thoughts when you’re outside your house.
Here are suggestions on how to make your workout routine more beneficial:
- Start by fixing the time for your workout. It could be in the morning, lunchtime, or evening, depending on your preference.
- Aim at exercising frequently, about 3 to 5 times a week, having 150 minutes of physical activity weekly.
- Set goals and use a mobile app to track your progress. That way, you can compete with yourself by trying to beat your previous records.
- Consider exercising in a group or getting a trainer to guide you. Some people can be fun-loving, and working out with them can uplift your mood.
- Consider joining a sports team to provide more opportunities to make new friends and stick to a workout routine.
Motivate Yourself to Work Out More
Even though exercise is highly beneficial to people with anxiety disorders, it may not be easy to get yourself started. When you wake up tired from sleepless nights, you may not feel like exercising. But the feeling is usually temporary and requires a small trigger to get you in the mood. You’ll notice that the moment you step out the door and start working out, the resentment fades away quickly, and you might even enjoy the exercise.
It will also help if you choose an activity that you love doing. That way, it will feel like you’re having fun rather than working out. Considering the high benefits of exercise, it’s essential to motivate yourself to do it regularly. However, it’s recommended to seek professional help for anxiety and start psychotherapy or pharmacological treatment if symptoms do not improve.
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