Exercise and fitness are such a ubiquitous part of our culture today that it is hard to imagine a time when going to the gym after work was not seen as a normal habit. But, just a few decades ago, Americans were much less likely to exercise on their own. People may have been involved in sports, but seldom went to a gym just to work out or went for a run if it were not with a sports team or part of a training program. In 1960, President Kennedy went so far as to call America a "soft" and "under-exercised" nation.
Things began to change in 1968, when Dr. Kenneth Cooper published his then-groundbreaking book Aerobics, outlining the health benefits of exercise. Since then, exercise has become part of daily life for millions of people. Working out is now seen as essential for overall health and a healthy lifestyle.
While the physical benefits of exercise are certainly important, many people also choose exercise for the impact that it has on their mental health. Anxiety is on the rise, and the millions of people who live with anxiety are looking for ways to manage their condition. In addition to therapy and medication, exercise is one of the main ways that people choose to cope with anxiety. Many people find that exercising makes them feel calmer and blow off steam when they feel stressed. But does exercise really help anxiety?
Anxiety: A Growing Problem
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. It is estimated that over 18%, or 40 million, American adults live with anxiety. And, that number is increasing. A 2018 survey reported that 39% of respondents said they feel more anxious than they did at the same time last year.
People who struggle with anxiety experience some similar symptoms, including feelings of panic and worry.
Can Exercise Help Anxiety?
Yes, exercise can help anxiety. But, it also depends on the type of anxiety and the person. As with all treatments for anxiety, different things work for different people. Many people with anxiety have reported that exercise helps them better manage their symptoms of the condition and feel less anxious overall. But, it is important to try exercise for anxiety for yourself to see what works for you.
How Does Exercise Help Anxiety?
There are numerous ways in which exercise helps anxiety:
Exercise can be a release for people when they are feeling stressed or tense. If you have ever punched a punching bag during a boxing class, you understand how exercise and movement can help you unload your stresses. After a long day of work, or a fight with a friend, or when you are feeling anxious for seemingly no reason, moving your body and clearing your mind can help you let go of those feelings and prevent them from developing into deeper feelings of anxiety.
When living with anxiety, it is all too easy to get caught up in your thoughts. One triggering thought can spiral into many more and lead you to feel extremely anxious and unable to calm yourself down. Working out, whether you go to the gym on your own, attend an exercise class, go for a jog outside, or engage in any form of exercise, is a great way to distract your mind and stop yourself from getting caught up in anxiety-inducing thoughts. While exercising, your mind will be focusing on your body's movements, giving you a much-needed break from the thoughts that make you feel anxious. Sometimes, distracting yourself and having a good workout is enough to stop anxious thoughts in their tracks.
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, a feel-good hormone that naturally boosts your mood. In addition to making you feel happier, endorphins also reduce stress, which in turn can make you feel less tense and anxious. When you feel anxious, try taking a 10-minute break to move your body and stimulate the release of endorphins to see if their stress-fighting abilities help calm you down.
Lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep has been shown to increase rates of anxiety, especially among women. Anxiety can also make it harder to sleep, especially if you feel stressed and anxious at night.Exercise can help with both of these situations, as working your muscles hard naturally makes you more tired. Working out requires an immense amount of energy, so your body will be more prepared to fall asleep at night. Plus, exercise may make you feel less anxious overall, making you less likely to start feeling symptoms of your anxiety as your head hits the pillow.
the best exercise for depression and anxiety (and the best exercise in general) is one that you enjoy. If you try to force yourself into a workout routine that you hate, you will not be able to stick with it. You will always get the most benefit, both mental and physical, out of the type of exercise that you can do consistently. If your favorite workout is not on the above list, don't worry. If you already have a type of exercise that you enjoy and feel that it helps you manage your anxiety, certainly continue to do it. But, if you feel that your current workout routine does not help with your anxiety, try adding one of the above exercises into your routine and see if it makes a difference.
Other Ways to Manage Anxiety
While exercise helps many people cope with their anxiety, it is not the only effective way to manage anxiety. More traditional methods, like medication and therapy, should not be overlooked. Millions of people manage their anxiety with the help of a therapist or counselor, who can serve as a trusted confidant and offer valuable, individualized advice for coping with anxiety.
For many people, a combination of anxiety management techniques works best. If you are struggling with anxiety, remember that treatment is not "one size fits all," and it could take time to find the anxiety treatments that work for you. Get in touch with a therapist or counselor if you want to take the first step towards finding the best way for you to cope with your anxiety.
Reviewer Rashonda Douthit , LCSW
To read more articles like this, please visit: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice
Karen was my last client for the day. We met at seven sharp, right after Steve.
Karen was an obese woman I trained twice a week. She was thirty years old, weighed 250 pounds, and was 5’ 2”. However, these numbers don’t say anything about her as a person. She was a painter who owned her own gallery in Manhattan. The serenity in her eyes and the way she smiled for no reason introduced her to me before she even told me her name.
She had been married for more than five years to someone who was in good shape. I knew this because her husband came to pick her up after our sessions. The conversation we had the first day we met left me pondering about life for days.
I asked the same question I asked every client before we began the program: What are your three main fitness goals?
Karen said she only had one goal: to enjoy the workouts.
I recall looking into her eyes as if she had not understood my question. I rephrased it, and this time I was more specific.
“I understand, Karen, and I will ensure that the exercises will be fun, but what I meant was, how many pounds do you want to lose?”
Again, she answered with a smile and said she didn’t care about the weight; she just wanted to feel good during and after the workouts. Furthermore, she said it didn’t matter if she didn’t lose any weight at all. Her peaceful eyes and joyful smile reinforced the truth of her words.
I could not believe this woman and how out of touch with reality she was. She was obese, for God’s sake! She could actually die of a heart attack at any moment, and my mind refused to believe that anyone could be at peace with a body like hers. It couldn’t be possible.
I insisted. I tried to force her to make a deal with me, and asked her to agree on losing one to two pounds per week.
Once more with the same serene, happy look on her face, she replied that I didn’t understand her. Patiently, she repeated that she was fine with her weight and that she enjoyed her work. She was a person who loved and was loved by her family and friends. Her life was a blessing, and she was grateful for what she had. There was nothing else to be added or removed to make her happier. The workouts with me were just to get her body moving while she had some fun.
I wasn’t amazed by her attitude, because I neither understood nor believed in what she was saying at the time. Nevertheless, after our encounter that day, I went home thinking about her, and I remembered a thought I’d had when I was a teenager, one that had returned many times throughout my life.
I would die young.
I believed I would not reach the age of thirty, despite being physically healthy.
Perhaps intuitively, I knew that my heart could fail at any time because of my lack of understanding of what life was really about: love and kindness.
I am convinced that Karen became my client for a reason—to teach me that to be healthy is to be loving. She trained with me for almost a year, and never lost any weight.
Karen was the healthiest client I ever had.
A simple practice we can engage in to cultivate peace and harmony is to give up hope and replace it with aspiration or motivation from the heart—that is, to stop waiting to be happy when something happens. Instead, rejoice in this very moment because what you are doing now should already be the realization of what you want to happen in the future.
We have the choice to change our minds when we can't change the situation we find ourselves in. Instead of perceiving a commitment to finish our work with dreadful anxiety, we can live in these moments with a sense of excitement.
Embrace the challenge of being creative, thus tapping into the unborn parts of the mind that are not habitually conditioned to perceiving external events.
The main difference between anxiety and excitement is the energy behind these feelings: one is driven by negative thoughts (anxiety), and the other by positive ones. All of the unnecessary suffering in our lives is self-created, and so is our happiness.
When we are able to perceive reality with an inner “eye” that can’t see itself, our hearts will have become the source of unconditioned joy.
I now see that my "fit and healthy" lifestyle was made up of a series of these kinds of experiences. I was very disciplined, but this discipline was turning me into the opposite of a loving and happy person. I came to realize that the pursuit of a fit and healthy body could only be a positive thing if we’ve already recognized our spiritual hearts as perfectly fit to provide us with a life of happiness and peace. In other words, although a fit body can improve our health, earn compliments that boost our self-esteem, and give us a temporary “high” of accomplishment, without a content mind and joyful heart, our happiness won’t last long. When our health and feel-good states depend on external conditions and constant hard work, this can propel us into an endless, destructive cycle.
From my experience with fitness, I can confidently say that the motivation to have a healthy body should not be based on fear, but on love. One of the hardest negative mental habits to break is the constant need for the approval of others. This habit can result in physical and emotional abuse (as happened to me), by propelling us to overtrain our bodies so that we will be accepted and complimented by others. The more I abused my body at the gym, the more people praised me, and the more I was motivated to keep doing it—to the extent that I even signed up for competition shows. As you can see, this was not that different from a drug addiction. My lack of self-respect and self-love was great enough to keep me open to doing anything that gave me that “approval-acceptance” high.
After many insights and lessons, I’ve learned to have self-love without selfishness; to recognize which behaviors are motivated by love rather than fear; to see how closely connected my past is to my present; and that love, joy, and peace are at the core of our true nature with regard to how we relate to others and the world. My new spiritual understanding not only gave deeper meaning to my life, but it has also caused external changes I could never have imagined.
"Bravo’s dusty roads were still paths for bull-driven carriages, which squeezed between the houses in a cloud of dust. The carriage conductor would scream loudly to give directions to the bulls. He wore leather pants and a leather jacket under the fierce sun, and whipped the bulls with two dirty ropes. From far off, I could hear the loud creaking of the carriage’s dry wooden chassis carrying large bags of beans and corn.
The sound grew louder and louder as it approached our street. It was a bit scary at first, but it always became the attraction of the week. I would rush to the window, covering my eyes with my fingers so as not to be blinded by the dust. I couldn’t open my mouth to laugh or scream either, unless I wanted to have dust for lunch.
I still enjoyed the passing of the giant, creaking carriage dragged by bulls and whipped by a wild man. Bravo seemed not to care about its bull-driven carriages making loud noises and clouds of dust. It was simply the space that allowed a bull to be a bull and a man to be a wild conductor."
"After days of dwelling on my detached feelings and memories of the past charged with discontent, there was a moment of silent melancholy and then a question. This question would change everything: ‘What would you do if you were still alive?’
I knew the answer well.
I’d listen to my heart..."
Below you will find a sample of the diet that I was on for about two years before I competed with WBFF – World Beauty Fitness and Fashion. This dietary system, combined with weight lifting, can be of great help for losing weight, staying in shape, and building muscle and strength. But as I have mentioned throughout my book, Fit for Joy, this type of regiment mainly focuses on the physical body, which is only one aspect of our being. We are so much more than just our bodies! The approach to fitness that works the body in isolation from our mind and our spiritual heart is not what I do today, professionally or personally. My work at the moment is about integrating conventional physical fitness with spirituality.
These meal suggestions are only to illustrate what my personal journey was like. They are not approved meal-plan recommendations.
BREAKFAST Option One
8 oz cold water with a probiotic supplement
1 tablespoon matcha green tea + ½ lemon
1-2 whole eggs
BREAKFAST Option Two
1 salmon filet oven-roasted with coconut oil
BREAKFAST Option Three
Steel-cut oats, almond milk, berries
Any lean meat of your choice: white fish (sole, cod, flounder, or halibut), grass-fed red meat, tuna fish, wild salmon, chicken breast, turkey breast, sardines in water.
Eat with steamed veggies or a green salad.
Avoid sauces; instead use olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and avocado oil for salad dressing.
Snack - Best Options:
1 tablespoon spirulina shake with ½ oz. frozen organic berries and a teaspoon of coconut oil
Green juice (no fruit added)
Protein shake (whey protein)
Nuts (walnuts, macadamias, pecans, Brazil nuts)
Raw coconut flakes
Celery, cucumber, or carrots with almond butter
Kale chips or dried seaweed
Raw cheese (unpasteurized)
Sweet potato chips (homemade)
The same options as lunch
*Important – Avoid:
All sugar and sweets
Regular fruit, except for berries and green apples
Starchy carbs such as pasta, bread, rice, wheat wraps, white potatoes, etc.
Kombucha drinks or tea
All kinds of tea, but especially green tea (no sugar added)
Coffee (no sugar added)
Sleep 8 hours or more per night
Drink a gallon of water every day, as well as green tea
All vegetables and fruit should be organic
Adding lemon to your meals is great – it alkalizes the body
You can have a small piece of dark chocolate 85% cacao or higher, but not every day
Use stevia powder as the only sweetener