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Exercising for Your Mental Health

23 August 2012

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems on earth. Clinically diagnosable anxiety affects almost 20% of the population, and far more experience some type of manageable but otherwise problematic stress. This prevalence has opened the door for numerous mental health treatment options, and yet most people that seek out anxiety treatments are overlooking perhaps the most important treatment: exercise.

Exercise can impact your ability to cope with stress and anxiety, releasing a natural anxiety cure, all without taking any drugs or supplements. Here's how:

•Depleting Cortisol – Stress releases cortisol, which most experts agree is responsible for weight gain. But cortisol is also a hormone that can be toxic for your body in high doses. Stress-related cortisol causes organ damage, DNA damage, and even memory loss.

•Releasing Endorphins – Aerobic activity (and to a lesser extent anaerobic activity) causes a release in endorphins neurotransmitters in your brain that act as natural pain killers. They are also the exact same neurotransmitters that regulate mood and reduce anxiety levels.

•Muscle Fatigue – Anxiety and stress symptoms are caused by tense muscles. Because exercise tires these muscles, they are unable to be as tense, and thus cause fewer anxiety symptoms. This effect was noted in The Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practices which stated that aerobic exercise caused a noticeable anxiety reducing effect as a result of this decrease in muscle tension. 

•Sleep – Sleep is one of the most powerful tools for reducing anxiety, and yet most people do not get enough of it. Stress and anxiety keeps you awake, creating a vicious cycle where stress causes you to lose sleep which causes you to experience more stress which causes you to lose sleep again. Because your body is so tired, it seeks out sleep despite your thoughts. Thus exercise allows you to get more rest, which in turn improves your ability to cope with anxiety.

Other potential mental health benefits to exercise: improving your self-confidence. Exercise can also be a social activity, and spending time in the presence of others also reduces anxiety.

Improving your fitness, appearance, and health are excellent reasons on their own to exercise. They're some of the most important keys to living a happy life. But if that's not enough to motivate you, perhaps your mental health is. Exercise is its own anxiety treatment, as there are very real, tangible benefits to your stress and anxiety levels, and anyone dealing with regular stress should strongly consider adding some exercise regimen to their daily routine.

About the Author: Ryan Rivera depends on exercise to keep his anxiety at bay. You can find out more about anxiety and stress on his website at



  • Larke Riemer

    Larke Riemer 7 years ago

    Great article Ryan and thank you for contributing to Ruby. My youngest daughter over the past 3 months has really put into play your suggestions and she is looking fantastic. Apart from loosing a lot of weight and inches her stress levels are now normal. Now we just have to get her "mother" there. Larke