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Randi FredricksRandi Fredricks, Ph.D.
Improving Anxiety, Depression, Addiction & Eating Disorders with Therapy & Natural Remedies Blog

How Exercise Can Reduce Anxiety

Randi Fredricks, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 10th 2014

You probably already know that if you exercise regularly a good workout can help you feel less stressed and better able to cope with problems. But can exercise help people with significant anxiety? Studies have found that physical activity can not only reduce anxiety symptoms, it can improve quality of life.

woman running outsideJust how exercise helps anxiety isn't known, but researchers believe that a combination of factors most likely come into play. For one thing, endorphins, the body's feel good chemical, is increased every time we exercise. Exercise probably helps ease anxiety by releasing other feel-good brain chemicals that effect neurotransmitters. Is also increases body temperature, which tends to induce a sense of calm. The act of exercising can build self-esteem and confidence and can provide social interaction when done with others.

Researchers examining exercise and anxiety have recommended that clinicians strongly encourage people with anxiety to exercise regularly in addition to adhering to proven treatment programs. Besides boosting mood, regular exercise offers a host of other benefits, such as reducing hypertension, reducing the risk of both heart disease and cancer, and preventing diabetes.

Therapists who do anxiety counseling routinely access the activity levels of their clients with anxiety. Almost any type of exercise can help to alleviate anxiety, but research has indicated that some types may be more antiolytic than others.

Yoga, in particular, has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress in a wide variety of contexts. After the 2004 Andaman tsunami, a study looked at the effect of yoga in reducing fear, anxiety, sadness and sleep problems in 47 of the survivors. Measurements of heart rate, breath, and skin resistance were used as markers. A significant decrease was detected in all markers, concluding that yoga was a useful intervention for anxiety and stress management particularly when combined with therapy.

In other research, yoga has reduced the signs of anxiety in people with eating disorders, cardiovascular disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and cancer. Moreover, yoga can be done by any age group and can be easily adapted for people with disabilities.

If someone has an anxiety disorder, typical treatment protocols include medication and psychotherapy. Often therapy includes the therapist attempting to get the client more motivated in terms of self-care including exercise, diet, and sleep.

The word "exercise" may make you think of exhausting yourself, running laps around the block. But exercise includes a wide range of activities that boost your activity level to help you feel better. Any activity that gets your heart pumping, such as running and lifting weights, is good but even brisk walking is helpful. Many people report that gardening, washing the car and other less intense activities are also helpful in reducing anxiety. Basically any form of exercise that gets the body moving stands a good chance of alleviating anxiety and calming the mind.

 

Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.

Dr. Randi Fredricks, Ph.D. is a therapist, researcher and author with a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Doctorate in Naturopathy. She works with individuals and couples and provides therapy for anxiety, depression, addiction, and eating disorders at San Jose Counseling and Psychotherapy. In her private practices in San Jose, CA. Dr. Fredricks has developed a proprietary counseling approach blending alternative medicine with traditional evidenced-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and client-centered therapies. Her therapy style is sensitive, spontaneous and enlivening. Dr. Fredricks' best-selling books include Healing & Wholeness: Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Mental Health and Fasting: An Exceptional Human Experience. For more about her work, visit http://www.drrandifredricks.com.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    Exercise helps! - Janet Singer (MHN Blogger) - Apr 15th 2014

    Great article. I just have a couple of comments. First, in my experience with my son, who saw ten different health care providers for his severe OCD, only one of them stressed the importance of exercise for his well-being. So it's not something that all therapists consider, which is unfortunate. The other comment I have is I'd like to stress that while exercise can be helpful, in most cases it should be considered an adjunct therapy, and not a replacement. In the case of OCD, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy is the frontline treatment for the disorder, and incorporating exercise is a great idea. But to think one can "exercise" his or her disorder away is misguided. Again, great article, and I hope more and more therapists will tout the benefits of exercise to their clients.

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