Under the Hood

Does Exercise Help Ease Anxiety?

Approximately 40 million adults suffer from anxiety disorders in America, which is not surprising since it is considered the most popular mental illness. Despite being five times more likely to approach the doctor for other related illnesses, only 36.9 percent of them seek and receive help for anxiety disorders. Instead, they tend to deal with the symptoms on their own and suffer miserably in silence. 

Life does not have to be that difficult, and they can do small things to help themselves. A simple solution would be to get some physical exercise, whether it is just a short brisk walk, or turning up the music and dancing. It always helps to shake off a bad feeling by distracting oneself with physical activity because it decreases muscle tension and alters the brain chemistry by producing important neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine and endorphins).  

The federal guidelines that are laid down by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion present evidence-based recommendations meant for health practitioners and policy makers. They advise adults to exercise every week for two and a half hours by doing moderate-intensity exercise or one and a half hours of vigorous-intensity exercise. Even mixing both could work for some people, depending on their preferences and physical capabilities.

Results Of Studies Are Mixed And Not Conclusive

Most people do tend to fall short of the necessary physical activity they need to keep several diseases at bay, including psychological ones. According to a study conducted by Rex Sports Medicine Institute in Cary, North Carolina, published in the year 2000, there are several psychological and physiological reasons for why physical activity helps recovery of mental health in some people.  

Interestingly, researchers confirmed that acute anxiety is more easily helped by exercise when compared to chronic anxiety. However, there is not much research available on how exercise affects the old and adolescent populations, as per the study. On the other hand, excessive physical activity can lead to muscle fatigue and symptoms that resemble depression, while regular exercise appears to have the same health benefits as meditation.

Since then, more research has been done in this area, but nothing conclusive has come from it.  A meta-analysis of 13 studies (14 cohorts) with 76,000 samples published in 2019 said that exercise helps relieve symptoms of early-onset anxiety. Researchers calculated that high levels of physical activity lowered anxiety-related symptoms in the early stages by 26 percent only. 

Moreover, the findings revealed that it was not the frequency of physical activity, but more so the intensity that mattered. Even the disorders that exercise helps do not follow a pattern. For instance, agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were impacted more positively by intense physical activity, when compared with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Therefore, it is hard to accurately pinpoint a study focused on patients with high anxiety levels, where the participants' health improved due to exercise being part of their recovery plan. 

AADA Not Entirely Sure

Furthermore, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA), it is difficult to determine the exact effect of exercise on depression and anxiety. Particularly, whether the impact will be long-term or short-term. As with different kinds of therapies, the benefit is individualistic.

Some studies even say that exercise may not have that much of an effect on relieving depression and anxiety symptoms at all. However, psychologists agree that being physically active is definitely good for physical health, and that they indisputably recommend it to stay fit.  

Exercise Women gathered for a morning aerobic exercise. Pixabay

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