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How fitness training helps anxiety

Our attitudes to exercise have changed dramatically over the last 10 years. More and more we are accepting that everyone needs some kind of a fitness routine, even people who do not consider themselves sporty or comfortable in a gym. One of the key motivations is to maintain emotional health as well as physical health – because it is now widely accepted that exercise helps with anxiety, something which increasingly people suffer from.

What is anxiety?
“Anxiety is a persistent feeling of worry, fear or nervousness.” (Mental Health UK). The physical and emotional body are connected through the nervous system, and negative emotions such as fear and stress cause it to go into fight or flight mode, which sets off the adrenal glands releasing adrenalin and cortisol.

Specific ways that exercise helps
Exercise allows a natural physical outlet for this build-up of anxiety energy for the following reasons:

  1. Breathing is regulated and much deeper whilst training, which leads to a calmer & sympathetic nervous system. This helps stabilise mood and well-being, leaving you in a better position to handle stress and triggers.
  1. The mind-body connection is re-established by directing thoughts to your technique and movement. Anxiety, stress and panic can lead to a sensation of separation from the body the opposite of feeling grounded, and calm but controlled movement helps bring this back into a coherent whole.
  1. Heart and lungs work to get fresh oxygen into the blood, helping clear the mind and organize thoughts better, decrease fatigue, and increase concentration. Endorphins, which are natural pain killers, are released as well as Serotonin (and other happy hormones) to balance mood.
  1. Tension which is stored in joints through stress and anxiety, unlocks through stretch and mobilization.

  2. On top of all that, training also helps you sleep better, especially combined with a good protein intake. Anxiety and chronic worry can interfere with natural sleep patterns and research has shown that exercise, in particular strength training helps you fall asleep more quickly and efficiently.

Pressures of Competitive Environment
In the modern world, and in particular in a competitive urban environment like London, regular and frequent exercise can certainly help us to manage anxiety better and cope better with stressful periods of our lives

Improved sleep

I’ve noticed when monitoring my sleep and training with a Fit Bit that I have higher than average ‘deep sleep’ which is down to training, so that when I wake up I really do feel that I have been in a deep sleep and I remain in a calmer state the next day. Your body is repairing muscle and rebuilding you if you are doing a lot of weight training, and that makes you feel heavy, which is the principle behind the ‘weighted anxiety blanket’. So you’re more awake when you’re awake, and more asleep when you’re asleep!

Reduced sensitivity

Both aerobic and strength training are also shown to reduce anxiety sensitivity which is the fear of the sensations of anxiety like a pounding heart or a rush of adrenalin. So not only are people dealing with anxiety but the double impact of the fear of how you feel when you have it.

Long term benefits of a stronger body

More long-term benefits of training, in particular Strength Training, build a stronger body, which in simple terms makes you more physically powerful and helps social anxiety; it feels good and makes you feel confident. It also gives you a better posture, stronger, denser bones and more power physically. Something else happens too when your body is stronger, you hold your posture differently with greater confidence and calm which means people treat you differently. This is true for both men and women - social anxiety is alleviated by knowing you are fit and able to handle unexpected situations better.