This is a post I recently wrote as a guest blogger for Clearpoint Counselling of Vancouver, B.C.

morning-exercise-3Regular physical activity has been repeatedly shown to be associated with improved emotional wellbeing.

Research shows that regular exercise is correlated with a reduced prevalence of anxiety disorders and that prescribed exercise can be an effective treatment for anxiety symptoms.

For example, in one Swedish study that followed participants for two years, those who participated in more than two hours of physical activity per week had fewer symptoms of anxiety than those who didn’t.

The physical activity in this study included aerobics, dancing, swimming, playing football and gardening.

How does exercise reduce anxiety?

It is unclear exactly how exercise reduces anxiety symptoms, however there is scientific evidence from both humans and animals that supports several theories:

  1. Exercise can affect your stress levels by altering stress-related hormones.
  2. Exercise can have the same effects as antidepressants. It can increase your serotonin levels which contributes to your feelings of well-being and happiness.
  3. Binding of beta-endorphins in the brain following exercise causes mood elevation, induces euphoria and reduces anxiety.
  4. Exercise may decrease a person’s sensitivity to anxiety through exposure to the physical symptoms they fear, such as increased heart rate.
  5. Exercise works as a distraction from negative thoughts, similar to meditation and quiet rest.

How much exercise is recommended?

According to the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, in order to achieve health benefits, adults aged 18-64 years should accumulate 150 minutes  (or 2 ½ hours) of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.

What type of exercise is best?

The best type of exercise is the activity that you enjoy the most.

If an activity is enjoyable, you will be more likely to stick with it. For some it could simply be taking the dog for a walk, and for others it could be joining a dance class, hiking or playing tennis.

How to start exercising and doing it safely

If you are new to exercise, it is recommended to first get the go-ahead from your doctor.  The Physical Activity Readiness Form (Par-q) will also give you an idea of whether or not you are ready to start exercising.

While exercising, it is beneficial to monitor your heart rate. This ensures that you are obtaining the most benefit from your exercise, while still staying within a safe intensity range. The recommended range for aerobic activity is between 60% and 85% of your maximum heart rate. If you are new to exercise, stay within bottom half of this range.

(You can calculate your target heart rate range here).

For example, the heart rate range for a 35 year-old would be between 111 and 157 beats per minute.

References:

Anderson, E. & Shivakumar, G. (2013). Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety. Frontiers in Psychiatry, doi:10.3389fpsyt.2013.00027.

DDHS. (2002). Physical Activity Fundamental to Preventing Disease. Washington: US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

Jonsdottir, I.H., Rodjer, L., Hadzibarjramovic, E., Borgessen, M. & Ahlborg, G. (2010). A prospective study of leisure-time physical activity and mental health in Swedish health care workers and social insurance officers. Preventative Medicine, 51(5), 373-377.

Sarris, J., Moylan, S., Camfield, D.A., Pase, M.P., Mischoulon, D., Berk, M., Jacka, F.N., & Schweitzer, I. (2012). Complementary medicine, exercise, meditation, diet, and lifestyle modification for anxiety disorders: a review of current evidence. Evidence-Based Alternative and Complementary Medicine, doi:10.1155/2012/809653.

Zschuke, E., Gaudlitz, K., & Strohle, A. (2013). Exercise and physical activity in mental disorders: clinical and experimental evidence. Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, 46, 512-521.

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