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Stress and Anxiety:
How Exercise Can Help You

By Jade C. Pulman

The positive effects of exercising on a regular basis are many and are not only applicable to your physical health but your mental and emotional health as well. Physicians have long known that staying physically active increases your mental wellbeing, providing aid to other ailments that plague the body such as anxiety or stress and this is why they prescribe regular exercise to their patients.

Exercise and the Brain

It's a common misconception that exercising will leave you feeling drained or tired. While you may feel fatigue while exerting yourself during the actual exercise, you may be surprised to find that your energy levels will actually increase as a result. This will improve your alertness and concentration, making it easier for you to focus on the things you need to get done like work or staying present in social situations and important conversations. If you experience stress or anxiety on a regular basis you must be familiar with feeling drained and finding it hard to concentrate- there's a good chance that exercise can counteract those symptoms.

As stress affects the brain, the body becomes affected as well. On the flip-side, when your body feels better, your mind is more likely to feel better too! Exercise makes you feel better because of increased blood circulation and oxygen absorption. When you exercise feel-good endorphins (chemicals released in the brain that act as natural painkillers) are released throughout the body giving you a boost in both mood and energy. They also improve the quality of your sleep which acts as a natural medicine for anyone but especially those experiencing stress or anxiety. Scientists have completed numerous studies that show that exercise reduces tension and improves self-esteem and after about 5 minutes of aerobic exercise anti-anxiety effects are stimulated within the body.

Exercise and Anxiety Disorders

Did you know federal guidelines suggest at least 2½ hours of moderate physical activity and 1¼ hours of high-intensity activity every week? There are many activities you can do to reach this goal including:

  • Swimming
  • Brisk walking/jogging/running
  • Boxing
  • Lifting weights
  • Bodyweight exercises, for example, a pullup routine mixed with high-intensity cardio
  • Exercise classes offered at a gym such as Zumba or yoga.

Don't be afraid to mix it up and try something new, the more you enjoy the exercise you're doing, the more you will benefit from it. If there is an ocean near you, try surfing, paddle-boarding, or kayaking! If you are in the mountains, try hiking, mountain biking, or climbing. There's something out there everyone will love, and working out in nature will further amplify your sense of wellbeing.

If you're having a particularly hard time getting used to an exercise program, consider finding a workout buddy to take with you! Knowing that someone else is counting on you and being able to count on them can drastically change your level of commitment. It' also fun to have someone to share it with and inspiring to see each other changing for the better.

Fitness Tips and Tricks

  • Music motivates, bring an iPod!
  • Leave your phone behind to avoid distractions
  • Eat a good meal before and after exercise and always stay hydrated
  • Set small, attainable, and realistic goals. Celebrate your wins!
  • Document your exercise journey to stay aware of your improvements
  • Create a support network you can go to for help when in need of motivation
  • The beginning is the hardest part, stick it out, and you will be enjoying it more than you ever thought possible
  • In combination with a healthy diet, you'll experience weight loss, clearer skin, improved mood, and detoxification of the entire body.

The benefits of exercise are many. If you're looking to do something to help ease your anxiety and stress, start by trying a new physical activity!

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