How Physical Fitness Can Help Beat Anxiety

Most of us have either experienced some type of anxiety or know a person who has experienced anxiety. According to Harvard Medical School, in 2019, one in five Americans over 18, and one in three teenagers 13 to 18, reported having a chronic anxiety disorder. This statistic was published pre-pandemic, so we would now imagine that this number may have increased significantly, considering the impact that the pandemic placed on all of us, emotionally, mentally, and physically. The NP team has had the pleasure of helping many of our clients overcome many of the effects of anxiety, so we’re sharing a few facts about how physical fitness can help beat anxiety. 

What is anxiety? 

Defined by the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety is a biological reaction – the body’s way of telling us something isn’t right. But if anxiety becomes overwhelming and persistent, or if it interferes with regular daily activities, or even makes them impossible, it may be an anxiety disorder. 

A few facts about anxiety:

  •  Over 40 million adults experience an anxiety disorder each year
  •  Anxiety disorders can develop for a number of reasons, including genetics, brain chemistry, and life events
  •  There are many different types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, specific phobias, and more
  •  Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in the U.S.

How are physical fitness and anxiety connected?

Science connects physical fitness and anxiety since both elements are impacted by the way our mind and body work. Exercise increases the availability of neuroreceptors in the brain, such as serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and endocannabinoids. Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these: 

  •  Serotonin: Serotonin plays a key role in such body functions as mood, sleep, digestion, nausea, wound healing, bone health, blood clotting, and sexual desire.
  •  Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA): Produces a calming effect
  •  Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF): The levels of this protein increase after exercise. BDNF has already been shown to enhance mental abilities at the same time as acting against anxiety and depression in mice and might act in a similar way in humans. It is currently not clear how exercise increases the production of BDNF by cells in the brain.
  •  Endocannabinoids: This is the central integrator linking the perception of external and internal stimuli to distinct neurophysiological and behavioral outcomes (such as fear reaction, anxiety, and stress-coping), thus allowing an organism to adapt to its changing environment.

How does exercise help ease anxiety?

Here are the facts:

  •  Engaging in exercise diverts you from the very thing you are anxious about. We want you to avoid bringing stress to your workout sessions.
  •  Moving your body decreases muscle tension, lowering the body’s contribution to feeling anxious.
  •  Getting your heart rate up changes brain chemistry, increasing the availability of the important anti-anxiety neurochemicals (serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and endocannabinoids)
  •  Exercise activates frontal regions of the brain responsible for executive function, which helps control the amygdala, our reacting system to real or imagined threats to our survival.
  •  Exercising helps you to build resilience against heavy emotions.

It is important to work out regularly and to do a wide range of exercises – anything from aerobic, HIIT, yoga, or strength training will help release the biochemicals in the brain to give you the positive effects you need.



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