Benefits of Exercising to Combat Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of tension, nervousness, worrying thoughts, and physical disturbances such as sweating, elevated blood pressure, and increased heartbeat (1,2).
Anxiety disorders are characterized by persistent disturbing ideas or concerns. They may avoid specific situations due to anxiety. Accompanying physical manifestations may include sweating, shaking, disorientation, or an increased heart rate (2).

Anxiety vs. Fear

Despite being frequently used interchangeably, anxiety and fear are not the same. Fear is a normal, instantaneous temporary reaction to a recognized threat, but anxiety is a long-lasting, broadly focused, long-lasting response to a vague threat. Fear is a normal response when one is faced with danger, and it is expected that the body responds such that one is protected from the danger and the negative feeling stops after the threat is over. Anxiety however persists for a much longer time, and the triggers are not necessarily dangerous (2).

Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety disorders can cause a range of symptoms that vary depending on the specific type of disorder. These symptoms may include:
  • Excessive worrying
  • Restlessness
  • Stress
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lack of sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Self-consciousness or feelings of embarrassment or shame (5).

Factors that Can Cause Anxiety

Since we all have varying manifestations and predisposing factors to anxiety, it can be tasking to isolate the precise root of the problem. There are several variables at play: Some of these factors are (4);
  • Being mistreated, bullied, or harassed, including racism, and feeling lonely or alienated.
  • Childhood neglect
  • Feeling under pressure
  • Issues with housing and homelessness
  • Losing a close family member (sometimes called bereavement)
  • Studying or working long hours, being unemployed financial issues.
  • Tiredness or a build-up of tension experiencing strain when.
  • Worried about natural disasters or the environment (4).
Anxiety disorders are the most frequent type of emotional problem and can affect anyone. Women are also more likely than males to be given an anxiety disorder diagnosis.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety has a significant role in many different conditions. These consist of:
1. Panic illness:
This implies that you frequently get panic episodes at odd times.
2. Phobia:
This is described as unwarranted fear specific to certain harmless objects, animals, or situations. For example, pyrophobia, fear of fire.
3. Obsessive-compulsive disorder:
This means that you frequently have unreasonable ideas that cause you to engage in particular, repetitive actions.
4. Separation anxiety disorder:
This could mean that you are afraid of leaving your house.
5. Illness anxiety disorder:
This is anxiety regarding well-being (6).
In addition, anxiety can be a sign of a variety of physical and mental health issues. These consist of:
A. Post-related stress disorder (PTSD) →Following a distressing life event, this is anxiety.
B. Disorders of major depression → Depression and anxiety are closely related to one another.
C. Substance use disorder →Many persons who struggle with anxiety may try self-medication to ease their symptoms (6).

Importance of Addressing Anxiety

It is very important to seek therapy for anxiety from experts as soon as signs of anxiety start interfering with a person’s life. If the person chooses not to receive therapy, new symptoms could appear and eventually cause the beginning of another ailment.

Overview of Exercise as a Potential Solution

Although stress and anxiety are common aspects of life, however anxiety disorders affecting 40 million individuals in the United States are the most prevalent mental conditions. Exercise may provide advantages beyond stress reduction, such as reducing anxiety and other linked condition (7).
According to psychologists who are researching the benefits of exercise in treating anxiety and depression, a 10-minute stroll may be just as effective as a 45-minute session. According to certain research, exercise can instantly improve many people’s gloomy moods. Although the benefits might only last a short while, they show that a little walk or another straightforward exercise might provide many hours of pain relief (7).
Additionally, science has shown that those who are physically active have less anxiety and sadness than those who are inactive. By promoting better stress management in the brain, exercise may enhance mental health. According to one study, those who regularly engage in intense exercise have a 25% lower chance of developing a depressive or anxiety condition during an additional five years (7).

Exercise as a Therapy Tool

According to certain research, regular exercise has long-lasting effects on some people’s anxiety and depression symptoms that are comparable to those of medicine. A single intense workout might ease signs of anxiety for hours, and regular exercise on a regular schedule may greatly lessen them over time (7).
Even though exercise is generally beneficial, several new research indicates that some people might be an exception. For certain individuals, exercise may not significantly improve anxiety, depression, or long-term mental health (7).
Like other types of therapy, the results may differ from one person to another because certain individuals may respond favorably, while others might find out that it has little to no impact on their mood and others may only notice a minor short-term gain. However, studies assert that there is no disputing the beneficial impact of regular exercise on physical health and that individuals should be urged to maintain physical activity (7).

How Exercise Helps with Anxiety

Numerous benefits of regular exercise include achieving both healthy physical and mental health. Here are some ways that exercising can benefit your mental health:
Increases endorphins: Exercise increases the production of endorphins, which are natural chemicals that make you feel good. This can lead to a sense of well-being and help to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
When you exercise, and your heart beats faster, your brain releases chemicals that can help reduce anxiety and make you feel better. These chemicals include serotonin, GABA, BDNF, and endocannabinoids.
Exercise can help you control your emotions better by activating parts of your brain that help you plan and organize. These parts of your brain can also help you deal with stressful situations by regulating your response to them.
Regular exercise can help you build up resources that make you more resilient against difficult emotions. This can include feeling better about yourself, having a more positive mood, and feeling less anxious. By building up these resources, you can better handle challenging situations.
Provides a distraction: Engaging in physical activity can help to distract your mind from negative thoughts or worries. This can help provide relief to the mind, thus relieving stress and associated anxiety.
Improves sleep: Regular exercise can improve the quality and duration of sleep. This can help to improve mood and reduce feelings of fatigue and irritability.
Boosts self-esteem and confidence: Regular exercise can help to improve self-esteem and confidence by promoting a sense of achievement and accomplishment.
Promotes social interaction: Participating in group exercise classes or team sports can provide opportunities for social interaction and help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness (8).
The following anxiety exercises can help people feel less stressed, anxious, and panicked.
Studies have demonstrated aerobic activity, such as running, as an effective therapy choice for anxiety. High-intensity exercise was shown to be more productive than low-intensity exercise. A 12-week running program can dramatically improve feelings of anxiety and sadness in adults with low-level depression, according to research (9).
Cycling is another excellent approach to ease anxiety, and it can be done both indoors and outdoors. In fact, according to research reported in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, riding in a virtual environment can be very effective in lowering stress while raising intensity (9).
Yoga, while not an aerobic exercise, can help alleviate anxiety symptoms. Yoga blends physical exercise plus deep breathing to aid you to relax and calm yourself. Examples of the yoga exercise are:
i. Alternating between the nostrils
Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, is a yoga breathing method that helps increase focus and reduce blood pressure. A person breathes through one nostril while covering the other nostril, then alternates to exhale from the other.
STEP 1: Start by inhaling and exhaling.
STEP 2: Raise your right hand toward your nose.
STEP 3: The thumb, ring finger, and smallest finger should remain long while the tip and middle fingers are bent toward the palm.
STEP 4: Occlude the right nostril by pressing it with the thumb of the right hand.
STEP 5: Taking a breath, use your left nostril
STEP 6: With your ring finger, pinch the left nostril shut.
STEP 7: Exhale through the right nostril.
STEP 8: Use your right nostril to breathe in.
STEP 9: Use your thumb to seal up your right nostril.
STEP 10: Exhale while opening your left nostril.
STEP 11: Make 10 rounds of the breathing exercise.
STEP 12: Put the left hand on the left knee while sitting (10).
The exercise should be aborted upon feeling dizzy.
ii. Pursed lip breathing
One may breathe more deliberately, calmly, and deeply when one purses their lips. It is a straightforward breathing method that aids in making deep breaths deliberate and slower. This method is usually used by people with lung disorders, including emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), to manage shortness of breath and reduce anxiety.
STEP 1: Take a comfy seat on a chair or the ground.
STEP 2: Relax your shoulders and neck.
STEP 3: Inhale gently for 2 seconds via the nose while keeping your mouth closed and your lips relaxed.
STEP 4: Exhale through the mouth gently and steadily while sucking the lips together as if kissing someone.
STEP 5: Breathing using resonance frequency
STEP 6: This method, also known as coherent breathing, can help people feel less anxious (10).
iii. Resonance frequency breathing
This method, which is also known as coherent breathing, can help people feel less anxious and help them relax.
STEP 1: Breathe in via the nose with the lips shut for a count of six while lying down with your eyes closed. Too much air should not be in the lungs.
STEP 2: Without rushing the breath, exhale for a count of six while doing so slowly and gently.
STEP 3: Continue for up to 10 minutes as necessary.
STEP 4: After the activity, the person should sit motionlessly and concentrate for a few minutes on how their body feels.
STEP 5: After the activity, the person should sit motionlessly and concentrate for a few minutes on how their body feels.
STEP 6: Resonance frequency breathing rate varies from person to person, but the average range is between 4.5 and 7 breaths per minute (10).
iv. Simple Breathing Techniques
This easy breathing technique may be used by those who are sitting, standing, or lying down. To maximize the benefits, folks should also think about incorporating it into their everyday routine.
STEP 1: Adopt a comfortable position and remove any clothes that could be restricting your breathing.
STEP 2: When lying down, position the arms with the palms facing up and marginally away from the sides.
STEP 3: Place the legs in a relaxed position.
STEP 4: Place the feet level on the ground, hip-width apart, either you’re standing or sitting.
STEP 5: Allow the breath to flow naturally and deeply into your abdomen for up to five counts while inhaling through your nose.
STEP 6: Next, exhale through your lips for up to five counts without hesitating or holding your breath.
STEP 7: For 3-5 minutes more, keep doing the workout (10).
v. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscular relaxation was shown considerably improves COVID-19 patients’ sleep quality and anxiety levels based on research published in 2021. Focusing on tensing and releasing each muscle group individually throughout these exercises involves the chest, back, arms, abdominals, legs, and shoulders, among others.
The following steps are involved:
STEP 1: Lie on your back and take a few relaxing stretches.
STEP 2: Tighten the first set of muscles for as long as ten seconds while taking a breath.
STEP 3: Exhale and rapidly relax the affected muscle group.
STEP 4: Then, go on to the next muscle group by relaxing for up to 20 seconds.
STEP 5: When finished, go from 5 to 1 in reverse and concentrate on the present (10).


Anxiety is a common mental health issue that can be caused by various factors. Exercise has been shown to have potential benefits in reducing anxiety and improving mental health. Regular physical activity can have long-lasting effects on anxiety and depression symptoms, and it is recommended as a part of therapy.
(1) Parekh, R. (2017). What Are Anxiety Disorders?; American Psychiatric Association.
(2) American Psychological Association. (2022). Anxiety. American Psychological Association.
(3) Director, N. M. M., ATR-BC, LPC, ACS, Clinical. (2022, August 28). Importance of Anxiety Treatment. Harmony Bay Wellness.
(4) Mind. (2021). What causes anxiety problems.
(5) Felman, A. (2022, April 15). Anxiety treatment: Self-management, therapy, and medication.
(6) Holland, K. (2018, September 19). Everything You Need to Know About Anxiety. Healthline; Healthline Media.
(7) Anxiety & Depression Association of America. (2000). Exercise for Stress and Anxiety | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA.
(8) MD, J. J. R. (2019, October 24). Can exercise help treat anxiety? Harvard Health.
(9) Gould, H. (2021, October 12). 7 Workout Moves That Will Help Ease Anxiety. Byrdie.
(10) Crumpler, C. (2022, January 24). 5 exercises for anxiety.
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