If anxiety attacks are plaguing you on Sunday nights, the solution could be somewhere you don’t expect—the gym. (Or your local bike trail, or the living-room yoga mat.)
When anxiety is eating you up, the last thing you feel like doing is running or pilates. I’ve had days where I didn’t get off the couch, and guess what? Some of those were days that my worries really flared up. They probably would have been a lot calmer if I moved my body a little—because the effects of exercise on anxiety are awesome.
It’s worth making the effort, even if it seems hard (at first): the physical and psychological benefits of exercise are immense and well documented. And getting up to move(!) can boost your mood and ease anxiety.
Maybe you’re thinking, how am I supposed to exercise when my thoughts are paralyzing me? Believe me, I get it.
Don’t get overwhelmed just yet—the effort isn’t as scary as you think, once you get started. And it’s definitely worth it.
Here’s some essential 411 on the effects of exercise on anxiety:
What’s the relationship between anxiety and lack of exercise?
We live in a sedentary world, but physical exercise is one of the ways your body makes important neurochemicals, like:
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
- Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
All of these chemicals have a role in regulating mood and anxiety. When you don’t exercise, you may not make enough of them to moderate anxiety, so normal feelings of stress can spiral out of control. When you do exercise regularly, it helps your body’s neurochemicals balance themselves—and it may balance your worries and woes, too.
How does exercise calm anxiety?
Influencing neurochemical levels isn’t the only way exercise can cut down excessive worry. Moving your body helps you feel less anxious by:
- Distracting your attention from what’s bugging you: Exercise causes “engagement of attention control,” which can decrease anxiety, according to a 2018 study.
- Loosening you up, literally: Writing in the Harvard Health Blog, Dr. John Ratey notes that “moving your body decreases muscle tension, lowering the body’s contribution to feeling anxious.”
The effects of exercise on anxiety: how much sweat do you need to get the benefits?
The scientific community is still coming to a consensus about the most effective amount of exercise to combat anxiety. According to the Mayo Clinic, three to five 30-minute exercise sessions per week “may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms.”
But if you can’t manage 30 minutes at a time, don’t sweat it. Most people have at least 10 or 15 minutes to spare, so meet yourself where you are and start small. It’s more important to actually stick with it since the benefits of exercise only stick around if the routine does.
How to start exercising for stress
If you’re skeptical because you’ve never stuck with an exercise routine, don’t be.
I have a secret for you: You don’t have to follow a structured exercise program at all.
In fact, you don’t even have to do anything that looks like exercise. At a minimum, you can set a timer for 15 minutes and do some gardening or knock out some tidying up. You can go on a walk with a friend. Or you can play frisbee with your kids. If it gets your heart rate up and your body moving, then it’s exercise!
That being said, you can set yourself up for success by following these tips:
- Make it part of your routine: It’s easier to follow through on a new habit (like exercise) if it’s part of a pattern, so try regularly squeezing it into your morning or evening schedule if it feels right.
- Start where you are, not where you want to be: If you’re totally sedentary, don’t leap right into running a 5K. You’re way more likely to stick with this if you set realistic goals. If you probably won’t go on a walk seven times a week, don’t put that as your benchmark.
- Identify your kryptonite: We all have something that’s stopping us from getting started. Are you too self-conscious to go to the gym? Choose something you can do around the house. If you need accountability, get a buddy. If you know what’s blocking you from exercising, you can overcome it!
- Look at it as therapy: Instead of seeing exercise as a chore sucking up even more of your packed schedule, realize that it’s an important tool that you can use to manage your wellbeing. Just thinking about the effects of exercise on anxiety may be enough to get you moving.
- Accept that there will be obstacles: You’ll have days where you really don’t feel like exercising, and it falls off your priority list. But don’t let that be a reason for it to happen again the next day. Setbacks are temporary; it’s how you respond to them that determines the benefit you’ll get from exercise.
Get your butt in the gym or out on the trail—and bring along some Sunday Scaries!
Adding CBD to my daily routine, along with exercise, was a game-changer for a few reasons.
CBD makes it easier to focus on what matters at the moment instead of letting worried thoughts take over my day—or my workout. That helps me go harder, which provides maximum benefit in multiple ways. (Most notably, high-level physical exercise is a better protector against anxiety symptoms.)
I can add CBD to my workout on short notice with a fast-acting tincture, or pop a few CBD gummies 30 to 60 minutes before going on a run. Whether you exercise at the same time every day or sneak in some movement where you can get it, you can work in some CBD too!
If you’re ready to outrun your racing thoughts and get sweating with Scaries onboard, check out our collection and subscribe to your favorite way to chill!