Feeling a bit on edge? Maybe an intense workout is what your mind and body requires. A new study suggests that working out not only keeps you fit and healthy but also helps you cope with anxiety and stress. “While it is well-known that exercise improves mood, not as much is known about the potency of exercise’s impact on the emotional state,” explains J. Carson Smith, assistant professor of kinesiology, University of Maryland School of Public Health, who led the study.
“We found that exercise helps to buffer the effects of emotional exposure. If you exercise, you’ll not only reduce your anxiety, but you’ll be better able to maintain that reduced anxiety when confronted with emotional events,” said Smith, the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reports. Smith, whose research explores how exercise and physical activity affect brain function, aging and mental health, compared how moderate intensity cycling versus a period of quiet rest (both for 30 minutes) affected anxiety levels in a group of healthy college students, according to a Maryland statement.
He assessed their anxiety state before the period of activity (or rest), shortly afterward (15 minutes after) and finally after exposing them to a variety of highly arousing pleasant and unpleasant photographs, as well as neutral images. Smith found that exercise and quiet rest were equally effective at reducing anxiety levels initially. However, once they were emotionally stimulated (by being shown 90 photographs from the International Affective Picture System, used in emotion research) for 20 minutes, the anxiety levels of those who had simply rested went back up to their initial levels, whereas those who had exercised maintained their reduced anxiety levels.
The study findings suggest that exercise may play an important role in helping people to better endure life’s daily anxieties and stressors.