8 Ways a Fitness Routine Could Help Your Anxiety
Clearly, 2020 has been an immensely trying year worldwide, given the uncertainty, loss, and constant change caused by the coronavirus. As a result of COVID-19, the Mental Health Association now reports a “staggering” increase in anxiety and depression.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. It affected 40 million people each year pre-pandemic, with prevalence rates estimated to range from 18% to 25% of the population.
In addition to ongoing stress, anxiety can be caused by a number of interacting factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, medical conditions, substance abuse, phobias, and trauma. Women are twice as likely as men to have generalized anxiety disorder.
Treatments for anxiety can include counseling, medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and exercise. Everyone’s needs are different when it comes to treating anxiety, but the good news is that exercise is easily accessible and affordable — and also yields multiple other valuable physical and mental benefits.
Whether you’re a beginner or an exercise aficionado, here’s how a fitness routine can help anxiety:
1. Exercise Alters Brain Chemistry
Research shows that exercise stimulates the release of hormones that make you feel better, such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). By helping to balance or increase these neurotransmitters, workouts can improve your mood over time.
2. Physical Activity Enhances Executive Function
Exercise stimulates the frontal regions of the brain and thereby helps control the amygdala, which activates the “fight or flight” response when triggered by anxiety, fear, aggression, or anger. It also helps you concentrate better, organize and interpret information and make decisions faster.
3. Training Relieves Stress
A constant state of anxiety negatively affects both the body and the mind. A fitness routine serves as an outlet for physical tension by lowering cortisol levels, as well as a beneficial mental diversion or escape.
4. Physical Training Boosts Self-Efficacy
Exercise improves self-confidence. It confers feelings of accomplishment and progress, and empowers individuals as a proactive way to take control of their health.
5. Working Out Offers Socialization and Community
Working out at a gym or taking exercise classes provides social opportunities to offset the isolation and loneliness that can accompany anxiety.
If you’re not ready to go back to a gym but want to be physically active, consider working with a personal trainer or using the YBell Fitness App to train with a friend.
6. Fitness Routines Provide Structure
Scheduling and performing regular exercise sessions creates a routine that delivers welcome structure and a sense of control that can help manage stress and anxiety.
7. Movement Increases Energy
For those whose anxiety can result in the inability to focus, lowered productivity or mental paralysis, exercise stimulates blood and oxygen flow to the muscles and the brain, thereby rousing both the body and mind.
8. Physical Exertion Improves Sleep
Studies show that regular exercisers enjoy better sleep and feel more rested, which enhances coping skills and physical health.
Researchers say the best results come from consistent fitness routines, recommending at least 30 minutes per day, 4 to 6 days per week. The modality is up to you — cardio, strength training, resistance training, yoga, stretching, and more all have been proven beneficial. There isn’t one way to exercise that is inherently more helpful than others.
To treat your anxiety, find activities you like and consider varying your regimen periodically to stay motivated. You can persevere over time with this smart investment in your physical and mental health.
As always, speak to your doctor if you have concerns about your anxiety or feel you need additional ways to treat it beyond exercise.
For more than 25 years, Julie King has been a certified group exercise instructor and personal trainer, holding certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, the Aquatic Exercise Association and Schwinn/Mad Dogg Athletics. She also has extensive continuing education and instruction experience in PiYo, YogaFit and mat Pilates.
Over her career, Julie has led virtually every class format at commercial health clubs, corporate fitness centers, wellness centers, schools and online. A contributing editor for Club Business International magazine, she has been published in Club Industry, Fitness Management, Club Solutions, National Fitness Trade Journal and Gear Trends/SNEWS.
With a M.S. in Kinesiology and a B.S. in Journalism, Julie is passionate about helping others to cultivate a love and habit of exercise.