The Secret to Relieving Anxiety and Stress

For those feeling the effects of anxiety and stress, new research verifies that exercise is as healthy for the mind as it is for the body.

  • relieving anxiety and stress - jumping rope
    Does exercise make you smile? Research shows its health benefits touch us mentally, emotionally, and physically.
  • relieving anxiety and stress - riding bikes
    Those who exercise regularly suffer less from anxiety and stress than those who don't.
    Photo by Corbis
  • relieving anxiety and stress - gardening
    The best kind of exercise is something you enjoy and will do regularly, whether it’s jogging or gardening.
    Getty Images/Eyewire

  • relieving anxiety and stress - jumping rope
  • relieving anxiety and stress - riding bikes
  • relieving anxiety and stress - gardening

Exercise isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind when we’re feeling stressed or anxious. For many of us, it’s more tempting to grab a pint of ice cream and the remote control than to head to the gym. But before you open that freezer, consider this: Recent studies have found that people who exercise regularly aren’t just more physically fit than those who don’t, they’re generally happier and less stressed, too.

Exercising just 30 minutes several times a week can relieve general anxiety and stress, and can be an effective treatment for more serious conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. A recent study conducted at the University of Colorado suggested that physical activity also can prevent stress to our immune systems, leaving us less susceptible to some bacterial and viral infections.

Perhaps most importantly, studies have shown that people who exercise have a more positive outlook on the world in general. The good news is that you don’t need to train for a marathon to brighten your perspective on life — for people new to exercise, even as little as 10 minutes a day has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and promote a general sense of well-being.

The Mind-Body Connection

Researchers don’t know exactly how exercise reduces stress, but they have a number of possible explanations. “More than likely, the results stem from a combination of physiological and mental factors,” says Steven Petruzzello, a professor of kinesiology and director of the exercise psychophysiology laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. 

 One explanation is that exercise itself is a form of stress, and forcing your body to move from its normal state of rest provokes a natural “fight or flight” response that activates endorphins — hormonelike substances in the brain, chemically similar to narcotics, that are believed to control our moods and emotions along with our responses to pain. This is a popular theory, but Petruzzello cautions that most of the studies that support it measured endorphins in the blood. Researchers still aren’t sure whether these compounds behave the same way in the nervous system.

Another possible explanation is that exercise raises body temperature. Researchers suspect this plays a role in the relaxed state of mind we experience after a workout, because warming the muscles makes them more flexible and releases tension. Based upon his research, Petruzzello speculates that exercise also increases the temperature of our brains, setting off a series of neurochemical reactions that trigger the activity of compounds such as serotonin and dopamine, two chemicals that facilitate communication between parts of the brain. Researchers believe both compounds play important roles in mood regulation and are associated with pleasurable feelings.

6/1/2007 1:58:08 PM

Commute to work by bicycle. First time I am able to work in my ride. Yoga, tunes, singing, dancing, and giving stuff away all work in giving glory to my creator and Lord....Jesus Christ !!!

6/1/2007 10:44:51 AM

Gardening is a great way to relieve stress and get your exercise at the same time.

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