About the author
Claire Cole is the founder of Movement for Minds, offering quick and effective mood boosting workouts scientifically designed to balance health, happiness and brain hormones.
Claire is a fully qualified fitness professional, mum of 2 and features regularly in the press and on TV promoting the benefits of fitness for mental health.
Ready to go? Let us find out how and start by releasing any tension you might be feeling:
- Take a deep breath.
- Drop your shoulders.
- Relax your jaw.
We all sometimes have feelings of anxiety, worry and fear and these can be normal responses to our day-to-day ups and downs. A little bit of anxiety is ok, it is a human feeling, worrying about a deadline, money and work demands can all have an impact on how we feel, but too much anxiety can leave us feeling unbalanced, anxious, and depressed.
Does exercise help anxiety?
A pair of strong frontal lobes and an athletic amygdala may not be the first thought that springs to mind when finding the motivation to exercise however being active is extremely important for lots of different reasons. Not only does exercise keep your bones strong, but it also prevents muscle loss, improves digestion, boosts energy and is scientifically proven to help reduce depression, stress, and anxiety.
When we feel stressed, strung out or unable to cope our bodies release hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is responsible for getting us away from danger, imagine an animal running out in front of the car whilst driving, you suddenly slam on the brakes, you get that heart in your mouth feeling, you are breathing hard and the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. This is our flight or fight response, it is our brain releasing hormones designed to protect us by getting us away from danger.
Cortisol is often labelled the bad guy, as it is our stress hormone. Don’t panic, it is vital to the healthy function of the body and mind as it controls our blood sugar levels, metabolism and blood pressure. Without it our bodies would not survive for more than 24 hours, however too much of it can make us feel as tense as a coiled spring.
Everyone’s experience of stress and anxiety is different and not only does anxiety have negative impacts it can also have positive benefits. Anxiety can be an early warning sign that something is off balance, maybe your job is too stressful, or you are losing sleep over a relationship that isn’t working.
Anxiety can boost cognitive function and motivation, it is normal to have butterflies in your tummy during a job interview, after all you’re trying to make a good impression! Finally, it is an early warning system to danger, do we ignore the flat tyre indicator when it flashes up on the dashboard of the car? Anxiety is the same, it is our internal early warning system letting us know that something may be wrong.
Ever wondered how exercise can soothe an anxious mind?
It might be the last thing you feel like doing, but scientific research on depression, anxiety and exercise shows that the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can help improve mood and reduce anxiety.
In the anxious brain, the amygdala, which is the deep emotional part of our brain is super sensitive and it can set off lots of false alarms, a bit like an annoying house alarm in the middle of the night. We can end up feeling strung out, heart racing, restless and tense and exercise can have a therapeutic effect on our mood. Let us find out why.
Does exercise release endorphins?
Yes, exercise triggers the release of endorphins. These are our bodies natural pain killers and they also create feelings of pleasure. There are also several key hormones at play which also help regulate our mood.
Imagine your favourite food, imagine eating it right now, your brain is remembering the feeling of pleasure you experienced last time you ate that food. Dopamine is our pleasure hormone which is released by endorphins and the more you exercise the more endorphins you release, yes you guessed it, resulting in more pleasure! That post workout bliss feeling is all down to those endorphins.
Exercise can help relieve anxiety by increasing serotonin. This is a chemical which is responsible for maintaining mood balance. Boosting your brain health and giving your overall wellbeing a well-deserved lift, serotonin improves sleep which regulates our circadian rhythm. Our mood is definitely boosted when we have experienced a goodnight’s sleep.
Also known as the love hormone, Oxytocin reduces stress by lowering cortisol levels producing a happy and calm feeling. Give someone a hug and you release oxytocin; you can also increase “happy hormones” with yoga and stretching.
Which exercise is best for anxiety?
Any amount of exercise is better than none, however raising your heart rate, increasing your breathing, and getting a sweat on will help to release endorphins. Although a 10-minute burst of exercise has a beneficial effect on mood, a regular program of at least 30 minutes of medium intensity exercise, several times a week, would be optimum.
Not all physical activity has to be structured. Getting outside in nature has a calming effect on the mind, try a hike, run or a walk but more importantly do something that you like that makes you feel good. It is hard to feel anxious when you are doing something that makes you smile.
What is the best time to exercise?
Cortisol levels are naturally higher in the morning, this is what helps give us that burst of energy we need to get out of bed. Those levels gradually reduce throughout the day unless our adrenal glands are triggered to produce more Cortisol which is often because of stress. If you feel anxious, exercising post lunch when cortisol levels are naturally lower may help reduce these feelings.
Less is more, try little and often alternating high intensity exercises like HIIT with strength and stretching to balance your body and mind.
We may not be able to change the high stress culture we live in, but we can change the way we manage it.
Claire Cole has designed an Anti-anxiety workout series, suitable for all fitness levels, designed to boost the right balance of brain chemistry to leave you feeling energized and alert.
Want to learn more about mental health and fitness? Visit: www.movementforminds.com
You can also check out Decathlon’s free daily fitness activities on PLAY to get started.