How does Exercise Reduce Anxiety?
Many psychologists recommend physical exercise as first treatment against depression, anxiety, and other emotional disorders. Studies continually show that people who follow a regular exercise program see an improvement in their condition of the same order as those who are treated with medication. These results are even more impressive considering the facts that physical exercise doesn’t cost anything, and can also bring many other health benefits that are far from negligible.
A team of scientists from Princeton University have revealed that when compared with sedentary mice, the brains of a group of mice subjected to a regular exercise schedule showed increased neuronal activity (appearance of new neurons) in the ventral hippocampus, the part of the brain linked to the regulation of anxiety. Because these young neurons are typically more excitable than their more mature counterparts, we would have thought that exercise would lead to an increase of anxiety, no less! However, this study has revealed that these new neurons release GABA neurotransmitters, which in turn inhibit excessive neuronal activity. This helps to create a natural state of calm. Prescription medication against anxiety produces the same effect in the same way, by amplifying the action of GABA.
What type of exercise is more beneficial?
The type of exercise is said to be not so important. The important thing is to actually exercise! Indeed, regardless of the type of exercise you perform, you cannot go wrong. All types of exercise provide positive effects, especially if they are sufficiently challenging. Cardiovascular, muscular, and stretching exercises are all beneficial. Yoga, however, seems particularly beneficial to mental health. The effects of yoga are said to be similar to those of antidepressants and psychotherapy, by influencing neurotransmitters and increasing serotonin secretion.
So, if you only think of the long term effects when you exercise, such as avoiding sickness, losing weight, or living longer, try to use exercise as a daily tool to improve your mental state, reduce your stress level, and simply to feel happier! When the motivation to train is lacking, do it for the effects on your general well-being.
By Karine Larose