Exercise can reduce anxiety symptoms, new study finds
Science already offers plenty of encouraging evidence that exercise can lift our moods, but a new study has found that being physically active halves the risk of developing clinical anxiety over time.
The study, from Sweden, focused on skiing, but the researchers said almost any kind of aerobic activity likely helps protect us against excessive worry and dread.
A combination of cardio and strength training done for at least 45-60 minutes, three times or more per week, for at least three months offered the maximum benefit when it came to reducing anxiety symptoms, said Malin Henriksson, the study’s first author and a researcher at the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
The study is a good reminder as the global level of anxiety spikes along with the rapid spread of the omicron variant and follows a global rise in anxiety disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Experiments show that when people start working out, they typically grow calmer, more resilient, happier and less apt to feel unduly sad, nervous or angry than before.
Epidemiological studies find that more exercise is linked with substantially lower chances of developing severe depression. Conversely, being sedentary increases the risk for depression.
A remarkable neurological study from 2013 even found that exercise leads to reductions in twitchy, rodent anxiety, by prompting an increase in the production of specialized neurons that release a chemical that soothes over-activity in other parts of the brain.
It’s not clear why exercise improves mental health, namely because it there may be several different mechanisms at play.
Regular fitness activity, for example, is known to enhance the creation of blood vessels, communication between nerve cells and brain synapses, and the new formation of nerve cells from stem cells, Henriksson says.
Research also suggests exercise stimulates the production of insulin-like growth factor 1, contributing to reduced anxiety-like behavior in mice and benefiting the brain’s ability to change and adapt.
Other studies suggest exercise can reduce levels of proinflammatory cytokines, increase levels of beta-endorphins, reduce response to stress through regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and increase levels of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream. This boost promotes relaxation.