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Learn How Exercise Helps To Reduce Anxiety
When it comes to the mental health state of the country, anxiety levels are high. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million U.S. adults making these some of the most common mental illnesses that affect Americans. In fact, 18 percent of adults 18 and older suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder-- from Generalized Anxiety Disorder to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – often associated with trauma.
Although anxiety disorders are treatable, only 36.9 percent of people get treated, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA.) And while anxiety can be treated medically, there are also natural treatments that don't require a visit to the doctor's office. Exercise, in particular, can help with anxiety and anxiety disorders in ways that medicine can research shows.
Why use exercise to cope with anxiety? While the connection between mental and physical activity may not be obvious to some, exercise is one way anxiety can be lowered quickly and has similar effects as medication. According to the ADAA, studies show that exercise can lift many people's depressed mood fast. Effects of exercise may be temporary, but a brisk walk, for example, is similar to taking aspirin for a headache, resulting in hours of relief. Research shows exercise can improve mental health by helping the brain deal better with stress.
But according to the American Psychology Association (APA) exercise brings long-term effects, too. Researchers have found that people prone to anxiety who work out more become less likely to panic during flight or fight situations, as exercise produces the same physical reactions: heavy perspiration and increased heart rate.
"Exercise in many ways is like exposure treatment," one researcher, Jasper Smits, PhD, Co-Director of the Anxiety Research and Treatment Program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said. "People learn to associate the symptoms with safety instead of danger."
The APA noted another study in which researchers asked volunteers with different levels of anxiety sensitivity to go under a carbon-dioxide challenge test.. The test often gives the same symptoms people might experience during a panic attack including increased heart and respiratory rates, dizziness and dry mouth. Researchers discovered that people with high anxiety sensitivity who reported high activity levels were less likely to panic than those did not exercise so often.
"Activity may be especially important for people at risk of developing anxiety disorder," Smits said.
With that in mind, here are some tips from the ADAA on how to start to get started on an exercise routine:
- 5 X 30: Jog, walk, bike, or dance three to five times a week for 30 minutes.
- Set small daily goals and aim for daily consistency rather than perfect workouts. It's better to walk every day for 15-20 minutes than to wait until the weekend for a three-hour fitness marathon. Lots of scientific data suggests frequency is most important.
- Find forms of exercise that are fun or enjoyable. Extroverted people often like classes and group activities. People who are more introverted often prefer solo pursuits.
- Distract yourself with an iPod or other portable media player to download audiobooks, podcasts, or music. Many people find it’s more fun to exercise while listening to something they enjoy.
- Recruit an “exercise buddy.” It's often easier to stick to your exercise routine when you commit to a friend, partner, or colleague.
- Be patient when you start a new exercise program. Most sedentary people require about four to eight weeks to feel coordinated and sufficiently in shape so that exercise feels easier.