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Can Exercise Cause Anxiety?

author image Rebecca Berry
Based in Louisiana, Rebecca Berry’s passion is in nutrition, fitness and wellness. She received a Master’s of Public Health in 2012. While studying at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, she specialized in both nutrition and maternal and child heath.
Can Exercise Cause Anxiety?
Someone is jogging through a forest. Photo Credit sestovic/iStock/Getty Images

The effects of exercise on your body can be similar to that of anxiety. Increased heart rate, sweating, and an increased breathing rate are indicative of both states. It would be reasonable to think that in individuals prone to anxiety, having these symptoms, even when caused by a different stimulus, may provoke anxiety due to the similarity of the symptoms. However, many studies show that the opposite may be the case. There have been several population-based and cross-sectional studies examining the relationship between anxiety and exercise.

Inside the Brain

In the medical community, it is accepted that exercise can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and other mental health symptoms, such as depression. Exercise releases chemicals in your brain that are similar to the medications used to treat anxiety and depression. Aerobic exercise can increase your brain's sensitivity to these chemicals, treating anxiety in itself or complementing anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications. This is also why exercise is often considered a mood booster, as everyone, not just those prone to anxiety or depression, can benefit.

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Stress Reduction

Exercise helps relieve your stress in a positive manner. Reducing stress is an important aspect of reducing anxiety in those prone to anxiety. Anxiety your body's response to stress. Much of the time, this is a healthy and beneficial response, such as during a car accident. However, in those prone to anxiety, this response is on overdrive and small amounts of stress can provoke anxiety. Reducing stress in those prone to anxiety can help moderate anxiety symptoms.

Exercise Types

The benefits of exercise on anxiety are best found when utilizing aerobic exercise. Similarly, high intensity exercise, such as jogging, seems to better counteract both anxiety and depression than low intensity exercise, like walking. Additionally, long term exercise plans, such as exercising several times a week for several months, have a greater impact on improving your general anxiety than short term exercise plans. However, just one exercise session can help relieve your current anxiety.

Consider This

While there is a lot of research showing a beneficial relationship between exercise and mental health, most of the research does not show the reasons why there is a relationship or other things that may be influencing the relationship between exercise and mental health. Anxiety might be present if the exercise is part of a competitive situation rather than exercise for the sake of exercise. Additionally, while research can show a general trend, each person is different. If you are experiencing anxiety due to exercise, talk to your doctor, as they may be able to help.

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