When you have anxiety or depression, exercise often seems like the last thing you want to do, but exercise can make a big difference.
Exercise helps prevent and improve a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis. Research on anxiety, depression and exercise shows that the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can also help reduce anxiety and improve mood.
The links between anxiety, depression and exercise aren't entirely clear — but working out can definitely help you relax and make you feel better. Exercise may also help keep anxiety and depression from coming back once you're feeling better.
How does exercise help depression and anxiety? Exercise probably helps ease depression in a number of ways, which may include:
Releasing feel-good brain chemicals that may ease depression (neurotransmitters and endorphins),
Reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression.
Exercise has many psychological and emotional benefits too. It can help you:
Gain confidence - Meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence. Getting in shape can also make you feel better about your appearance.
Take your mind off worries - Exercise is a distraction that can get you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression.
Get more social interaction. Exercise may give you the chance to meet or socialize with others. Just exchanging a friendly smile or greeting as you walk around your neighborhood can help your mood.
Cope in a healthy way. Doing something positive to manage anxiety or depression is a healthy coping strategy. Trying to feel better by drinking alcohol, dwelling on how badly you feel, or hoping anxiety or depression will go away on its own can lead to worsening symptoms.
30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week can significantly improve depression symptoms. But smaller amounts of activity — as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time — can make a difference.
The mental health benefits of exercise may last only if you stick with it over the long term.
If you exercise regularly but anxiety or depression symptoms still interfere with your daily living, see your doctor or other mental health provider.
Exercise is a great way to ease symptoms of anxiety or depression, but it isn't a substitute for psychotherapy or medications.