The physical benefits of exercise — improving physical condition and fighting disease — have long been established, and physicians always encourage staying physically active. Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.
When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. Or, if your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers — and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.
Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise for example, has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
The benefits of exercise may well extend beyond stress relief to improving anxiety and related disorders. Psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout. Some studies show that exercise can work quickly to elevate depressed mood in many people. Although the effects may be temporary, they demonstrate that a brisk walk or other simple activity can deliver several hours of relief.
Science has also provided some evidence that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. Exercise may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress. In one study, researchers found that those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years. Exercise can work as well as medication for some people to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the effects can be long lasting. One vigorous exercise session can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time.
Like all forms of therapy, the effect can vary: Some people may respond positively, others may find it only gives a modest short-term benefit. Nonetheless, researchers say that the beneficial effects of exercise on physical health are not in dispute, and people should be encouraged to stay physically active.
In an eye-opening demonstration of nature’s ingenuity, researchers at Princeton University recently discovered that exercise creates vibrant new brain cells — and then shuts them down when they shouldn’t be in action.
For some time, scientists studying exercise have been puzzled by physical activity’s two seemingly incompatible effects on the brain. On the one hand, exercise is known to prompt the creation of new and very excitable brain cells. At the same time, exercise can induce an overall pattern of calm in certain parts of the brain.
If a stressor does not involve a life-or-death decision and require immediate physical action, then having lots of excitable neurons firing all at once can be counterproductive, inducing anxiety.
Studies have shown that physical exercise creates excitable neurons in abundance, especially in the hippocampus, a portion of the brain known to be involved in thinking and emotional responses.
In addition, exercise also has been found to reduce anxiety in both people and animals.
In studies, those who run on a regular basis, show a notable number of new neurons specifically designed to release the neurotransmitter GABA, which inhibits brain activity, keeping other neurons from firing easily. In effect, these are nanny neurons, designed to shush and quiet activity in the brain.
When exposed to stress, large numbers of the excitable cells had fired in response. But with the runners, it didn’t last long. Their brains, unlike those of the sedentary people, showed evidence that the shushing neurons also had been activated in large numbers, releasing GABA, calming the excitable neurons’ activity and presumably keeping unnecessary anxiety at bay.
For people with anxiety and depression, their go-to treatments are often getting on medication or seeing a therapist. Although these avenues can definitely be helpful, there are a number of other factors that play a role in your overall mood, and one of those is physical exercise.
It might sound surprising that how often you workout could have an effect on how you feel mentally, but our physical body and mind have a strong connection, so taking care of one will have a positive effect on the other.
A review from Harvard University that looked at multiple studies stretching back to 1981 found that regular exercise can improve mood in people with mild to moderate depression, and it can play a supporting role in people with severe depression.
Other studies from the Archives of Internal Medicine have even found that the effects of regular exercise can last longer than antidepressants.
The same goes for anxiety. Multiple studies have found that exercise reduces feelings of anxiety and encourages feelings of wellbeing, and like depression, exercise can be an equally, if not more, effective than medication.
Even if exercise isn’t the sole remedy for curing mood disorders, it’s clear it can play a large role, so it’s important for everyone to incorporate some sort of workout into their routine to keep their overall mood its best.
If you’re looking for some happiness-inducing workouts, consider these six exercises that are best for relieving anxiety and depression.
Yoga is generally most people’s go-to when it comes to exercises that make you relaxed. But yoga not only has positive effects in the short term: Studies show that people who take yoga classes experience significant reductions in anxiety, depression, anger, and neurotic symptoms.
Yoga focuses on deep breaths and internal focus, which can be very beneficial for people dealing with anxiety or depression.
Many people turn to a quick run or jog when they’re feeling down, and for good reason. Running releases endorphins, natural feel-good chemicals in your body that give you a euphoric feeling. The effects aren’t just short-term however. A study from the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry found that running can be just as effective as psychotherapy in alleviating symptoms of depression.
In addition to mood-boosting cardiovascular activity, hiking involves being outside, and spending some time in nature can have even more beneficial mental health effects.
Whether you’re taking a Zumba class, salsa dancing with a partner, or just grooving out to some music in the comfort of your own home, dancing can help can help relieve stress and anxiety.
Studies show that dance classes can reduce anxiety more so than regular physical education. In addition to being physically active, many people see dance as a form of personal expression, which can help strengthen the connection between the mind and the body.
People are more likely to associate strength training with building muscle, but it can also have strong mental effects as well. One study from the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that regular resistance training can reduce symptoms of both anxiety and depression.
Strength training improves mood and self-esteem, regulates sleep, and reduces stress, which can all contribute to overall feelings of wellbeing.
Tai Chi is a form of exercise originating from China that incorporates Chinese martial arts with meditative movements. A study from the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that people who practiced tai chi showed improvement in areas of depression, anxiety, and general stress management.
The workout involves mental concentration, physical balance, muscle relaxation and relaxed breathing, which can all play a role in regulating mood.
There you have it folks, exercise is as good for the brain as it is for the body so no excuses, get moving and keep moving to keep our bodies and brains moving!