Exercise is vital for maintaining physical health and combatting disease, but did you know the benefits of exercise span past physical health and help improve mental health too? Have you ever heard of someone mention “a runner’s high”? It’s the feeling of euphoria and relief runners experience during or right after they finish their run.
More and more studies show daily exercise can reduce stress, and exercise it’s very effective in reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration that’s been depleted by stress and anxiety.
How Does Exercise Help?
The brain consists of many nerve connections, so when it experiences something, that experience is felt throughout the body. If your brain experiences stress, stress is felt throughout the body. If your brain experiences happiness, your entire body feels that experience. Exercise or physical activity produces endorphins- chemicals in the brain that diminish the feeling of pain and trigger positive feelings. So, when you exercise, your brain produces a chemical that acts as a “painkiller,” boosts your mood and emotional state. Exercise also tires the body and sleep becomes easier. Sleep gives your body time to rest and recover, lowering your feelings of stress and anxiety.
There’s also some evidence that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. 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.
Does the Thought of Exercise Bring Stress?
Many times, people hear the word “exercise” and immediately become more stressed or zone out because exercise can be hard and exhausting at first. Scientists found about five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects, so the good news is you don’t need to exercise intensely- you just need to move and get your heart rate up a bit. The more you move, the less stress you will experience. You just need to give your body time to get used to the breathing and exertion and create a habit. Don’t look it at exercise as another stressful thing because it’s hard, look at it as something to help you feel better. Think about how it will make you feel in the end.
What Are the Best Exercises to Lower Stress & Anxiety?
1. Hiking Outside
Next time you head out for a walk, consider hiking a nearby trail surrounded by trees. Nature has a calming effect on the mind, so during your next sweat session, find a quiet trail to walk, soak in some sun, breathe in fresh air, shut out the busy, noisy, stressful world, focus on taking a deep breath and celebrate your healthy movement. Take time to enjoy the calmness of nature and reflect on your goals.
A study recently published showed all of the participants who had taken yoga classes experienced “significant” reductions in depression, anger, anxiety, and neurotic symptoms. The findings led the researcher to recommend yoga as a complementary treatment for depression.
Yoga combines stretching and core strengthening exercises with deep breathing, which helps slow down and calm the mind. The combination of stretching and breathing leaves you feeling relaxed and refreshed. It’s difficult to be anxious when you are breathing deeply and thinking calmly.
3. Brisk Walk
Walking is top on the list because of its many benefits. It’s low impact, can be done anywhere, helps with circulation, and you can control the intensity. All physical activity requires movement, and walking is the perfect starting point for it. Walking for 20-30 minutes helps burn off unused energy that may provoke anxiety, allows you to take deep breathes to calm your mind, and you can safely add intensity to the exercise to move at a level that fits your needs.
Next time you begin to feel overwhelmed or stress, try one of these activities. Remember, part of the journey to better health is learning new, healthy ways to manage life. When you take care of yourself, you are helping your entire body, not just a symptom.