Exercise and Anxiety


When people talk about treatments for anxiety, they usually focus on medication and therapy as the two main options for a successful outcome. Indeed, a combination of medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy is known to be quite effective at easing symptoms of anxiety and preventing relapse. However, a third option is often overlooked: exercise.

Exercise is often grouped with alternative or complementary treatments like massage and relaxation techniques, but a growing number of research studies are finding that exercise provides more significant relief from anxiety symptoms than most other complementary therapies. And not only does exercise reduce anxiety (as well as easing depression, a disorder that often co-occurs with anxiety), it has none of the negative side effects associated with medications. In fact, it's side effects are largely positive--lower blood pressure, reduced weight, and overall better physical health.

How exercise works to reduce anxiety isn't yet clear. It probably helps in a number of ways, perhaps by boosting certain neurotransmitters in the brain, taking your mind off your worries, making you feel confident and more accomplished, or providing more social interaction. Whatever the mechanism of action, it is clear that exercise provides an immediate mood boost as well as long-term relief from anxiety.

Most studies have looked at aerobic exercise, but any type of exercise or activity has the potential to help. Improvement has been found with as little as 2 and a half hours of moderate exercise a week. For some people, the anxiety-reducing effects of exercise may be enough to get their anxiety symptoms under control; for many others, exercise will be an important part of a larger treatment plan that include therapy and/or medication.

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