Stressed out? You’re in luck. Exercise has been associated with a decline in anxiety and a boost in happiness. Specifically, regular exercise has been shown to decrease the likelihood of developing panic attacks, agoraphobia, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobias, PTSD and OCD!
A single session of exercise has been shown reduce anxiety in a number of studies. One study had participants bike for 20 minutes at either 40%, 60%, or 70% of their VO2max (maximum aerobic capacity). Anxiety was then measured at 5 minutes, 60 minutes and 120 minutes post exercise. The researchers found that anxiety was reduced at each measurement for the 40% and 60% groups. Anxiety was slightly increased at 5 minutes for the 70% group, but then dropped below baseline at 60 and 120 minutes. This shows that a single bout of exercise can reduce anxiety for at least 2 hours. Exercise has also been shown to reduce anxiety long-term. A meta analysis of 49 studies found that exercise programs have a moderate effect in reducing anxiety over time.
What Works Best?:
The type of exercise doesn’t seem to matter. Walking, running and biking have consistently been shown to be effective. One study showed that doing a combination of tai chi and yoga also significantly reduced anxiety. Another study showed that a 12 week yoga program was more beneficial than a 12 week walking program. Strength training has also been shown to reduce anxiety. One study found that strength training increased anxiety at 5 minutes after working out, but reduced it below baseline at 20 and 40 minutes. Another study found that a 12 week strength training program reduced anxiety, with a low intensity- high volume program showing similar results to a high intensity- low volume program.
One review found that exercise programs lasting less than 10 weeks had small effects on anxiety. Programs lasting 10 to 15 weeks had moderate effects, while programs lasting 16 weeks or more had large effects. When it comes to duration, one meta-analysis found that 21-30 minute bouts of exercise reduce anxiety to the greatest extent. Most studies have shown that exercising 3-4 days a week is effective. There’s not enough research, though, to say how it compares to exercising more or less. While some studies have shown that intensity doesn’t matter, others have shown that high intensity exercise is the most effective long-term. As noted earlier though, higher intensity exercise slightly increases anxiety during and 5 minutes after exercise, with it dropping below baseline somewhere between 5 and 20 minutes after exercise.
So if you are experiencing stress or chronic anxiety, exercise is a great way to get some relief. An ideal program would appear to be 21-30 minutes of the exercises of your choice 3-4 times a week at a higher intensity (if you can handle the initial increase in anxiety) for at least 16 weeks. Let us know how it goes!
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