Aerobic Exercise And Anxiety
by Dr. Carlo Carandang, MD
Does Aerobic Exercise Work For Anxiety?
What Is Aerobic Exercise?
Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, is a physical exercise that can be carried out for extended periods of time, like walking, biking, swimming, and running. This is in contrast to anaerobic exercise, which is done with high intensity for short periods, such as weight lifting and sprinting. Working up a good sweat can decrease anxiety. Natural endorphins are released in the body after exercise, so this gives you the feeling of a natural ‘high.’ And when you are anxious, feeling good helps you address your problems better. Aerobic exercise can also dissipate the stress and nervous energy that is built up in your body when you are anxious, fearful, worried, and stressed. When you are worked-up and agitated from stress and anxiety, then aerobic exercise can help to use up all that energy so that you are not so physically tense.
Does Aerobic Exercise Work?
Exercise improves self-esteem and general well-being, and helps to distract you from anxious thoughts. Exercise also helps to dissipate the stress that builds up in your body when you are anxious. A recent comprehensive review found that exercise was effective for anxiety as an adjunct treatment.1 Many psychiatrists recommend exercise to their anxious patients as part of the behavioral therapy component of the treatment plan.
Overuse injuries can occur with high-impact, repetitive exercise such as long distance running. It is recommended that you see your doctor for a complete physical examination before embarking on an aerobic exercise regimen.
Aerobic exercise can only be an adjunctive, rather than a primary treatment for anxiety. The upside is that aerobic exercise is free and convenient, and also improves overall physical health and mental well-being. Exercise helps to dissipate the stress that builds up when you are anxious. When aerobic exercise is combined with other treatments for anxiety, it can provide a predictable, consistent, and complete treatment for anxiety.
- Exercise for anxiety disorders: systematic review. Jayakody K, Gunadasa S, Hosker C. Br J Sports Med. 2014 Feb;48(3):187-96.