Exercise for Anxiety - does it work?

Exercise can help with anxiety directly and indirectly. Exercise is not a cure for anxiety, but it can help anyone lessen the symptoms of it. Healthy body, healthy mind – a sentence you’ve probably heard a lot. Surprisingly for such a catchy phrase, it’s mostly true. Exercise can have a huge impact on your mental health, including reducing symptoms of anxiety.

A man exercising outside

How does exercise help anxiety?

First, the science-y bits. Increasing your heart rate increases the availability of neurochemicals like serotonin which can reduce symptoms of anxiety. Exercising makes you less susceptible to illnesses like common colds and flus. While sickness bugs aren’t often the cause of day-today anxiety, staying healthier for longer may certainly reduce stress and make life less difficult. Anxiety can cause your muscles to become very tense. Exercise can help release this pent up tension, leaving you refreshed and clear-headed

Exercise can help with anxiety in less direct ways:

  1. Engaging in exercise diverts your thoughts away from those causing your anxiety. It can be pretty intense (ask anyone who likes spin classes!) so you’re forced to focus on the task at hand rather than worrying about the past or future.
  2. Exercise makes you a fitter, stronger and healthier version of yourself. Seeing yourself make progress and achieve goals can be a huge confidence boost
  3. Engaging in exercise often leads to an expanded social circle through classes, clubs or gyms. Even new casual friendships can give your self- esteem a boost and provides you with a whole new support network

How can use exercise to reduce anxiety?

  1. Start small. Even a short burst of exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety.
  2. Don’t force yourself into something unsustainable. Exercise should be an enjoyable part of your life and not a chore. Any form of exercise can have a positive impact on your mental health - choose something you enjoy and stick to it!
  3. It can be nerve-wracking attending a new class, gym or sports club, especially if you suffer from anxiety. Bring a friend along for moral support and to hold you accountable. Often the first time going is the hardest, but once you feel the positive effects of exercise and meet others, this can be motivation enough to branch out by yourself.

As with all mental illnesses, professional help and advice should be taken. Exercise is a good supplementary activity that can be used by anybody to lessen symptoms of anxiety, but it’s not a cure to any mental health condition. If you’re worried or need help, reach out to a health professional.