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How Exercise Can Help Anxiety and Depression

Exercise Strengthens Mind, Body and Spirit


EXERCISE helps us to keep our bodies in good condition. As well as toning and strengthening the muscles it helps improve circulation and lower blood pressure. It can, however, place a great deal of stress and strain on the body and in order to counteract this the body produces its own stress-relieving chemicals such as endorphins (Morphine-related painkillers). These chemicals, produced to relieve the stresses and strains of exercise, act on the nervous system in general and help promote feelings of relaxation and well-being.


"A state of uneasiness or tension caused by apprehension of possible misfortune, danger etc." and to be anxious is to be "worried and tense."

"A mental disorder characterised by feelings of gloom and inadequacy."

(The Collins English Dictionary)


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Numerous studies have shown the benefits of regular exercise in dealing with anxiety and depression problems. In many cases exercise helped just as much as, if not more than, medication.

Exercise is one way that we can physically make our nervous system work positively for us.

Exercise and Anxiety

Anxiety often leads to worrying. This represents a form of inaction: something is making us anxious and we are not doing anything about, just worrying. In exercising we promote the feeling of actually doing something. It also provides an outlet for the build up of nervous energy.

At the level of our inner-self:

Physically – we are using up all the nervous energy (adrenaline etc.) produced by anxiety for us to take action ... to fight or run away (the fight-or-flight response). Nervous energy that if not used could turn into worry.

Mentally – we are doing something, anything (even though it is not connected to our problem) rather than just sitting about worrying.

For people with anxiety disorders, exercise can reduce their fears of anxiety-related body sensations such as a racing heart and rapid breathing. This can be extremely good in the gym situation where the social aspect can lead to an acceptance of these body sensations (and fears about them) in the presence of other people.

Exercise and Depression

Recent research has shown that exercise can provide relief from depression better than SSRI's (depression medication).

With depression, we can come to feel that everything we do is hopeless and doomed to fail, so much so that we no longer try. Because of this our body stops producing energy and we get into a cycle of not doing things and having no energy to even try.

The more we do, the more energy our body produces to enable us to do it. (Exercising for one hour, though tiring, fills us with energy whilst lazing about makes us feel lethargic with no energy to do anything.) With exercise, we are doing something.

At the level of our inner-self:

Physically – we are taking action and our body will now start to provide us with more energy naturally.

Mentally – we are doing something, anything (even though it is not connected to our problem) rather than just sitting about 'obsessing'.

Therefore, just performing exercise can actually help depression better than medication. Experts have proved it in case after case. And this makes sense for it counteracts the 'having no energy' and 'doing nothing' parts of depression like no drug can.

General Benefits of Exercise

Exercising regularly really is one of the best things we can do to improve many areas in our life. The benefits include:-

•  Increased fitness
•  Weight control
•  Improves appearance and self-image
•  Increased social contact
•  Helps to relax us
•  Improved posture
•  Promotes a positive mental attitude
•  Improved function of all vital organs (including the brain)


Generally speaking:-

•  Do something that you enjoy. Exercise should be enjoyable (and challenging). Setting goals, short workouts, listening to music and doing it with friends – these things can make it more fun.
•  Start slowly, don't overdo it.
•  Do it regularly: 3 to 4 times a week (10–60 mins).
•  Don't focus on the aches and pains during exercise. Think how good you will feel when you have finished.

(Please Note: Whilst exercise can help with anxiety and depression and plays an important part in the healing process, it is not, in itself, a cure for serious anxiety and depression related problems. Here, the source of the problem needs to be identified, understood and dealt with.
And, under no circumstance should anyone stop taking prescription medications without full medical supervision.)




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