Best Exercises to Fight Off Anxiety and Depression

Shandra Martinez

| 3 min read

Overweight woman has done New Year resolution for weight loss in new year. Obese hiker walking on forest trail in winter cold weather. Nordic walking in Czech National Park Sumava.
Sometimes bad feelings do more than creep into the edges of our lives – sometimes they come to stay for a while. You might notice that you feel more anxious than usual about something related to work or your personal life. Or you might feel a little depressed. Maybe you don’t know why you feel that way, but you do know you’re not motivated to get off your couch.
First, know that you are not alone. Anyone can have anxiety or feel depressed occasionally. More than 40 million adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder, making it the most common mental health issue in the country. And the current COVID-19 pandemic has meant an increase in the number of people feeling unsettled and experiencing symptoms of anxiety, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This ranges from frontline workers and parents of young children to those who are just worried about their health and that of their loved ones.
While people should talk to their health care provider if anxiety or depression become a chronic problem, those with mild symptoms are encouraged to try exercise as a way to keep those feelings at bay. Research has shown that physical activity has a positive effect on the brain, and aerobic exercise can be a good non-prescription way to prevent and treat anxiety, according to Harvard Medical School. 
Why exercise makes you feel better. There’s been a lot of research into the science behind why exercise makes people feel happier, calmer and less anxious. Here are a few of the highlights:
  • When your heart rate goes up during any cardio exercise, your brain chemistry changes. Feel-good endorphins and serotonin are released.
  • Exercise releases tension from your muscles.
  • When you exercise, you are focused on your movements. Your thoughts are not stuck on whatever was making you anxious.
Which exercises are best to fight off anxiety/depression? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this one. The best mix of exercises to make you feel better – and keep you on an even keel – will depend on how you answer these questions.
Which exercises can you do year-round? You might love the rush of downhill skiing, but if you live in a spot where you can only do that three months out of the year, it’s not a realistic exercise to make part of your regular wellness plan. Pick cardio sports to incorporate into your week that you can do no matter what the season, even if it’s brisk walking.
Which workouts are convenient? You might love working up a sweat on the elliptical machine at your gym or logging miles on its indoor track, but if you can only make it to the gym once or twice a week, you’ll need to add more types of workouts to your list. Try running in your neighborhood with a friend or streaming an indoor cardio workout series that you can do from home.
Can you move it outside? Outdoor workouts can have even more of a calming effect on people, which is important for those trying to lower their anxiety. If one of your workouts is something you can move into nature – think an afternoon hike in the woods or a long walk on a nearby trail – try making it a priority to add more fresh air into your exercise routine.
Photo credit: Getty

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