How Exercise & Physical Activity Can Calm Anxiety
Cardiovascular conditioning boosts memory, mood, and energy while reducing brain-damaging neural inflammation. The mood-lifting effects of aerobic conditioning have been shown to help patients suffering from anxiety and depression.
PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES FOR REDUCING ANXIETY
- • Aerobic Conditioning: climbing, cycling, using the elliptical, working on household chores, interval training, jogging, running, swimming, running on a treadmill, walking, practicing yoga
- • Strength Training: free weights, Pilates, resistance bands, yoga, weight lifting machines
- • Competitive Sports: badminton, baseball, football, Ping-Pong, basketball, racquetball, soccer, tennis
- • Dancing
- • Other Activities: shopping, performing household chores, and gardening
It’s not necessary to become a triathlete or gym rat to appreciate the calming effects of aerobic workouts. Just twenty minutes a day of brisk walking has been shown to provide significant brain advantages and stress reduction.
Some people like to work out on their own, while others prefer fitness classes or competitive sports. Exercising with others introduces an important social element that provides additional mental health benefits. It’s important to find an exercise regimen you enjoy because that will help you stick with it and gain the most benefits. Keep in mind that beginners should start low and go slow to avoid injury and gradually build stamina.
Yoga is a popular mind-body exercise that involves postures, breathing, and meditative elements, and research on the benefits of yoga for anxiety disorders is encouraging. The slow, deliberate meditative postures and movements of tai chi have been shown to improve mood, memory, and physical stamina while altering brain neural circuitry for the better.
Dancing combines an aerobic workout with the cognitive challenge of keeping track of your movements and steps. Brain scans of experienced dancers demonstrate strengthened neural circuits in regions involved in motor control, balance, and social interaction compared to scans of beginners. Don’t forget that household chores can provide a fairly good workout too. Raking leaves and making beds for thirty minutes can knock off one hundred or more calories.
APPROXIMATE CALORIES BURNED DURING THIRTY-MINUTE ACTIVITIES
Calories counts listed are averages for a 155-pound individual but will vary according to a person’s body weight and rigor.
|Sleeping, watching TV||25|
|Bowling, dancing, volleyball, Frisbee, lifting weights||110|
|Golf or food shopping (using cart)||130|
|Horseback riding, tai chi, stretching, yoga, water aerobics, raking||150|
|Gardening, mowing lawn, badminton, walking (15 min./mile)||170|
|Snorkeling, softball, dancing (ballroom, square)||190|
|Golf (carrying clubs)||205|
|Swimming, power walking||230|
|Racquetball, tennis, soccer, cycling||260|
|Basketball, cycling (12 mph), football, hockey, running (5 mph)||300|
If you don’t mind the stress of a larger credit card bill, shopping at the mall can give you a workout while boosting your neural circuits. You will benefit from both the aerobic exercise you get walking briskly between stores as well as the neural stimulation that comes from searching through items for the right sizes and colors. Shopping with a friend adds an important social interaction element that can reduce stress, stimulate the brain, and make exercising more fun.
Many people like to go to gyms that offer indoor aerobic options and strength training with weights. Both aerobic conditioning and strength training get our hearts pumping more oxygen and nutrients into our cells, which boosts physical and mental energy, stabilizes mood, and helps reduce anxiety. If you’re pressed for time, try interval training, which involves periods of intense exertion alternated with periods of rest or lighter exertion. Recent research indicates that you receive the same health benefits from this pattern of exercise in one fourth the time needed for endurance training.
Another mental benefit of cardiovascular conditioning is the euphoria we experience as the feel-good hormones, endorphins, get released into our systems. These mood-stabilizing hormones can allay anxiety and depression.
Food for Mood
Most of us enjoy eating a variety of foods, and we know that healthy meals are essential to fortify our bodies. But what and how much we eat can also impact our mood. Dining can be one of the greatest pleasures in life, and sharing meals with others is a good way to socialize, reduce stress, and improve overall wellbeing.
Eating fruits, whole grains, and vegetables that provide important vitamins and minerals is associated with a lower risk of depression. Also, foods high in omega-3 fats like fish, nuts, and flaxseed improve mood. Eating carbohydrates in moderation can have a calming effect in part because they increase the amount of the mood-enhancing brain chemical serotonin. Experts speculate that low brain serotonin levels may be linked to “carb cravings.” The amino acid tryptophan contained in some protein-rich foods like chicken, turkey, and tuna can also increase serotonin in the brain.
Many people who get stressed out or anxious turn to food for comfort. Whether it’s a grilled cheese sandwich, slice of chocolate cake, or bowl of sugary cereal, eating comfort foods can bring temporary anxiety symptom relief. But when eaten in excess, these foods lose their calming effects and can lead to health problems associated with being overweight or obese. Scientists have found that people who regularly consume fast foods, processed foods, and sweets are generally more anxious than those who eat natural foods, such as poultry, milk, seeds, and nuts.
THE GLYCEMIC INDEX TO REDUCE ANXIETY
The glycemic index (GI) ranks carbohydrates from zero to one hundred depending on their complexity and how rapidly they are digested and absorbed as sugar (glucose) into the blood. For better brain health and less anxiety, it’s best to emphasize some of the following low GI carbs and avoid the high GI carbs in our diets:
|< 40||Apple, apricots (dried), bean sprouts, cashews, fettuccine, grapefruit, lentils, lima beans, nonfat yogurt, peanuts, prunes, skim milk, soybeans, wheat tortilla|
|40–54||All-bran cereal, baked beans, corn tortilla, cooked carrots, grapes, oatmeal, orange, peach, quinoa, spaghetti, whole-grain bread, unsweetened apple juice|
|55–75||Bananas, brown rice, Cream of Wheat cereal, ice cream, natural Muesli cereal, oat-bran cereal, pineapple, potato chips, white pita bread, whole-wheat bread|
|71–84||Bagels, Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs, Corn Flakes, French fries, jelly beans, pretzels, puffed wheat cereal, rice cakes, soda crackers, Total cereal, vanilla wafers|
|≥ 85||Baked potato, dried dates, white baguettes, instant mashed potatoes, instant rice|
Eating a Mediterranean-style diet that includes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and omega-3 fats from fish, nuts, or flaxseed provides anti-inflammatory properties that protect both our brains and our bodies from heightened inflammation associated with aging. Simply limiting our intake of refined sugars and processed foods has been shown to reduce inflammation and lower stress levels and anxiety. It also decreases our risk of age-related diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains take longer to digest so they help stabilize blood sugar levels and provide a steadier supply of serotonin to the brain. By contrast, high-glycemic index carbs will spike blood sugar levels and lead to subsequent blood sugar dives that trigger hypoglycemia—a potentially dangerous mental and physical state that causes anxiety symptoms including nervousness, sweating, dizziness, and a pounding or racing heart.
Caffeine is the world’s most widely consumed stimulant and is present not only in coffee and tea but also in cola, chocolate, and many other foods. Too much caffeine will make people feel nervous and restless and worsen symptoms of anxiety, so it makes sense to limit caffeine consumption to promote calmness. Any anxious person attempting to reduce their caffeine intake should go about it gradually since rapid caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches, fatigue, moodiness, and irritability.
Many of us are familiar with that satisfied but somewhat lethargic state we feel after a big Thanksgiving dinner. One explanation is a possible relaxation effect from the tryptophan-rich turkey meal. Tryptophan is an amino acid that may have antianxiety effects because it changes into serotonin when it enters the brain. Research on pumpkin seeds, another tryptophan-rich food, indicates that eating them can reduce symptoms of social phobia.Image courtesy of Pixabay and some sources from these References