Exercise: Powerful Medicine for Anxiety & Depression
By Meghan Gilmour, MS CPT
We tend to think of exercise merely as a way to lose weight, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! Exercise is powerful medicine! Not only does regular exercise (at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, 5 days per week) strengthen the skeletal system, boost immunity, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes (just to name a few), but it’s also an amazing, drug-free method for reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Here’s how:
#1 Exercise Makes Your Brain Release “Happy” Chemicals
We’ve all heard that exercise causes the release of “feel good” hormones: and it’s true! Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids. Endorphins trigger positive feelings and reduce your perception of pain, while endocannabinoids promote a better mood.
#2 Exercise Relieves Stress
Anxiety and depression are stressful. Exercise reduces cortisol (a stress hormone) and adrenaline levels in the bloodstream. In addition, physical activity also helps channel excessive adrenaline (a.k.a. “the jitters”) in a healthy way, thus relieving stress and increasing your sense of well-being.
#3 Exercise Promotes Confidence
Setting goals and achieving them is always a confidence booster. Plus, you’ll feel stronger, healthier, and more in control of your health and emotions, which is likely to translate into other areas of your life.
#4 Exercise Can Improve Your Social Life
Recruit a workout buddy or take a group fitness class. It’s amazing how exercise can build lasting friendships!
A Word to Those with Anxiety and/or Panic Disorder:
Although physical activity is an incredible method for fighting anxiety, many people are afraid to start exercising because it leads to increased adrenaline levels and many symptoms that mimic panic. Also, as a personal trainer and a person who has suffered from panic attacks, I guarantee that exercise will help you feel better, even if it is uncomfortable at first. Here are some symptoms that you may experience: increased respiration, raised heartbeat, sweating, nervousness, and trembling.
In order to lessen these symptoms, start slowly. First, pick an activity that you enjoy and perform it three times per week. Then, as you get more comfortable, increase the intensity and frequency of the activity. Finally, you can begin trying other exercise modalities that sound enjoyable. Furthermore, it’s ok to exercise at home, alone, or with a buddy – whatever makes you feel comfortable. Take your time and be kind to yourself. Fitness is a lifelong journey!
P.S. If you’re ready to start exercising, check out my Youtube Channel: BrunetteinBalance. I’ve created a workout, made especially for anxiety sufferers. You can check it out here.
About the Author:
Meghan Gilmour is dual-certified by the American Council on Exercise in Personal Training and Group Fitness Instruction. She also holds a Master’s in Applied Nutrition, with a concentration in fitness and nutrition) from Northeastern University. As an anxiety sufferer and former overweight teenager, Meghan has a passion for helping others improve their health and reduce their anxiety through physical activity, good nutrition, and a positive mindset. She also runs Brunette in Balance, a website and youtube channel dedicated to food, fitness, and fun.