The Effects of Exercise on Anxiety & Depression
This week is Canadian Mental Health Week! Did you know that exercise can help alleviate symtpoms of anxiety and deprsesion? Keep reading to find out the reasons why exercise is so beneficial!
The prevalence of anxiety and depression over the last few years has seemingly been on the rise. Many of those who experience depression or anxiety do not feel like they want to or even have enough energy to get out and start exercising. However, many studies have shown that exercise can be beneficial to those who are suffering from either anxiety or depression. De Moor et al (2006) found that those who exercise may alleviate depressive, anxious and neurotic symptoms and can also increase extraversion and sensation seeking qualities.
The three main physiological mechanisms behind the connection between increased exercise and decreased anxiety and depressive symptoms are the increase of neurotransmitters and endorphins that elicit a ‘feel good’ response, decreasing the immune system chemicals that are thought to have a negative impact on both anxiety and depression and increasing body temperature. Increasing the body temperature allows us to feel more calm which, as a result, decreases the negative symptoms felt by anxiety and depression.
Exercise can also have benefits on one’s psychological well-being and emotional well-being. Firstly, engaging in regular exercise can help to increase both your self-confidence and self-efficacy through overcoming barriers, improving your physical appearance and achieving goals that you have set for yourself. Secondly, exercise acts as a distraction from the things that are bothering you in your life. When you’re exercising, you’re focusing on the activity and technique or focusing on following your exercise instructor. Thirdly, exercise can help increase your social interactions, either by going to the gym with a “gym buddy”, joining a running or walking club or participating in a group exercise class. Exercising with people gives you an opportunity to interact and possibly meet new individuals. Lastly, exercise is a positive way to cope with your negative feelings. Just think, exercise helps to improve your body both inside and out, rather than turning to food or smoking as your way of relieving negative symptoms.
Studies have also looked at whether or not a specific type of exercise is more affective at alleviating anxiety and depression symptoms. Most studies use aerobic (ex. Cardio classes, running, biking etc.) for their mode of exercise, however, non-aerobic activity (ex. Resistance training) has been found to have an equal impact (Bryne & Bryne, 1993). Therefore, the take-home message from here is to just start exercising, whatever mode you prefer.
Sexton et al (1989) examined the effects of intensity on anxiety and depressive symptoms. Through this study, Sexton found that there was no major difference between high intensity and low intensity exercises on the relief of anxiety and depressive symptoms (1989). However, both groups seemed to have reduced feeling of depressive symptoms (Sexton et al, 1989). A separate study compared the difference in anxiety and depressive symptoms between exercising one day per week versus exercising three days per week (Conroy et al, 1982). These researchers found that those who exercised three days per week were able to alleviate their symptoms more than those who exercised only once per week (Conroy et al, 1982).
Based on the information provided, it is safe to say that exercise helps combat symptoms of anxiety and depression. Although it may be hard for individuals to start exercising when feeling these negative symptoms, it is important to get up and start moving. Every little bit can make a difference. Talk a walk outside, climb your stairs a few times, take a group exercise class with a friend… anything! It is also important for you to realize that you are not alone in your struggles and that there are people and resources available to you that can help.
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De Moor, M. H. M., Beem, A. L., Stubbe, J. H., Boomsma, D. I., & De Geus, E. J. C. (2006). Regular
exercise, anxiety, depression and personality: a population-based study. Preventive medicine,
Dunn, A. L., Trivedi, M. H., & O Neal, H. A. (2001). Physical activity dose-response effects on outcomes of
depression and anxiety. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(6; SUPP), S587-S597.
Mayo Clinic staff. (2010, August 21). Diseases and Conditions. Depression (major depression). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/influenza/DS00081/DSECTION=symptoms