Research has shown that exercise can be effective in relieving anxiety, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. But some exercises may be better than others. For instance, Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center warns that competitive sports may not offer the same anxiety relief as other exercises if you tend to get caught up in the stress of winning or losing. But that still leaves a variety of anxiety-fighting exercises that can suit a wide range of physical abilities and interests.
Runners often report feeling more relaxed and in a better mood after running. Some even experience a runner’s high or a feeling of euphoria from running. Aerobic exercises like running release feel-good chemicals in the brain called endorphins, which can help relieve anxiety. According to the ADAA, researchers have found that individuals who exercise vigorously and regularly were 25 percent less likely to develop an anxiety disorder or depression over the next five years.
Exercise doesn’t need to be vigorous to provide some anxiety relief. According to the ADAA, just 10 minutes of walking can help relieve anxiety. The anxiety relief may only be temporary–a few hours or so–but if done regularly it can provide more continuous relief.
Swimming and Dancing
According to Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center, exercises that are continuous and rhythmic tend to be especially beneficial for anxiety relief. The continuous and rhythmic flow of swimming can be an effective exercise for relieving anxiety. Dancing is likewise continuous and rhythmic with the added bonus of a strong aerobic element. Many people also find listening to music relaxing, so dancing to calming or uplifting music can provide stress relief and cardio benefits.
Yoga and Meditation
Yoga, which involves physical poses, controlled breathing and meditation, is effective for relieving stress and anxiety. According to Harvard Medical Center Health Publications, the mind-body connection in yoga poses helps still mind-chatter and regulate physiological responses to stress. In studies reviewed by Harvard, yoga lowered blood pressure, relaxed respiration, reduced heart rate while increasing heart rate variability, and relieved emotional distress. Heart rate variability corresponds to the flexibility with which the body deals with stress.
Tai chi, which originated in China, is an exercise that uses slow, continuous movements, meditation and controlled breathing. Several studies, including a 2003 study published in "The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine," have found that tai chi has the potential to lower blood pressure and improve participants’ anxiety status.
- Anxiety Disorders Association of America: Exercise for Stress and Anxiety
- Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Alerts: The Exercise Prescription
- Harvard Health Publications: Yoga for Anxiety and Depression
- The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine; The Beneficial Effects of Tai Chi Chuan on Blood Pressure and Lipid Profile and Anxiety Status in a Randomized Controlled Trial