This is a topic that is dear to my heart; I did my collage thesis on this very subject way back in 1985.
It’s been said that if exercise were a drug, it would be the most powerful medication on earth.
Study after study has shown that physical activity increases health and general well being. The evidence is clear; there’s no doubt that exercise has a positive effect on stress and can calm the mind and relax the body. Evidence suggests that exercise raises the levels of certain mood-enhancing neurotransmitters in the brain, help you sleep better, releases muscle tension, produces feel good endorphins, and reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. (See question two below).
Results may be seen with as little as 30 minutes of exercise a day, three to five days a week to significantly improve symptoms. But smaller amounts of activity improve mood and it can be a great way to get started if it’s initially too hard to do more.
The benefits of exercise for depression and anxiety
- Healthy Coping – Doing something positive to manage depression or anxiety is a healthy coping strategy.
- Anger Management – Expression or repression of anger and hostility plays a powerful role in the progression of depression and anxiety. Physical activity can be a healthy catharsis for this caustic emotion.
- Confidence - Being physically active gives you a sense of accomplishment. Meeting goals or challenges, no matter how small, can boost self-confidence at times when you need it most. Exercise can also make you feel better about your appearance and your self-worth.
- Interactions - Depression and anxiety can lead to isolation. Exercise may give you the chance to meet or socialize with others, even if it's just exchanging a friendly smile or greeting as you walk around your neighborhood.
- Introspection – Exercise can be a solitary escape from the daily toils and pressures of society. It can provide a mini vacation that allows one to recharge your energy levels to better deal.
- Reducing Muscular Tension - During stress, muscles contract and lose their normal resting muscle tone. Bouts of physical activity allow muscles to work, thereby releasing stored energy and allowing muscle groups to return to their normal resting potential. This action also reduces discomfort associated with muscular tension, like tension headaches, arthritic joint pain, backaches, etc.
- Endorphins - As stated before, endorphins have been shown to increase during physical activity of twenty minutes or more. Chemically similar to opiate compounds, this morphine-like substance has been shown to provide a pain relieving effect and promote a sense of euphoria – and it’s legal
- 8. Increased Awareness – Physically fit individuals tend to develop an increase sense of their bodies and become more in tune and have a greater sense of awareness that encompasses the physical, mental and the emotional self.
- Decreased Boredom - Too little stress in one's life can be just as upsetting as too much stress. It is natural for humans to seek out stimulation and excitement. For some, the opportunity for physical challenges is the most interesting part of life
10. Improvement in Sleep – A common symptom of stress, depression and anxiety is inability to get proper rest which only compounds the problem. Exercise has been shown to be very effective in helping people fall easily and sleep more soundly.
11. Stronger Immune System- The better shape you are in the stronger your immune system.
12. Moving Meditation – Certain exercises require a fairly consistent repetitive motion that can alter one's state of consciousness. Such as the Zen practice of walking meditation, the physiological effect is similar to what happens during meditation. Breathing and movement act as a mantra and may be responsible for the feelings of calmness and tranquility. This is my personal favorite!