The Best Exercises for Anxiety

Working out can be part of an effective treatment plan for anxiety.

Story by Scott Blakey + Photography by Mike Ritterbeck

You know you need to exercise regularly for your physical health, but did you know that getting regular exercise can be beneficial for your mental health, too? Studies have shown that exercise leads to improved anxiety symptoms in many people, and for some people, it can even be as effective as medication. While longer workouts are most effective, even a 10-minute walk can be enough to improve your mood.

Exercise helps treat anxiety by reducing stress hormones while increasing endorphins and other natural chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. While the effects of exercise on anxiety can be felt immediately, research has found that they also last long after your work out and can help to reduce the impact of stressful events post-workout as well.

While there are lots of different forms of exercise, these 5 workouts are great for treating anxiety.

YogaYOGA Yoga combines stretching and strengthening with controlled breathing. The deep breathing involved in yoga promotes a state of calmness, while the deep stretches will release tension to help your body relax. Yoga will help to improve your mind-body connection, which contributes to reducing stress and anxiety. Since yoga has been shown to have positive effects on people suffering from insomnia, it’s a great exercise to incorporate into your nightly routine.

CARDIO KICKBOXING With all the punching and kicking, cardio kickboxing is naturally a great way to relieve stress. Studies have shown that the effects of high-intensity workouts last much longer than other moderate or low impact exercises. This intense workout uses many muscles, which will leave you feeling stronger, both physically and mentally. Forcing you to focus on the present, cardio kickboxing is a great way to de-stress after a long day.

TAI CHI Like yoga, tai chi also improves the mind-body connection. Thai chi combines balance, relaxed breathing, and mental concentration, all of which contribute to regulating your mood. The slow and flowing movements are meditative, providing you with a deep sense of relaxation. This low impact, gentle exercise puts minimal stress on your muscles, making it the best choice for people of all fitness levels.

Tai ChiRUNNING Going for a long run is a great way to unwind after a long day and provides a block of uninterrupted time to clear your mind. Not only do you get the benefits of an intense workout but running outdoors will also give you lots of fresh air and vitamin D, which also contribute to reducing anxiety. With no equipment or gym membership required, running is the simplest way to reach your daily exercise goal.

DANCING Another great high-intensity exercise is a dancing class, like Zumba. Dance is a great form of self-expression, which helps to strengthen the mind-body connection. Taking a dance class also provides you with a social connection to like-minded people, improving your sense of belonging. With an energetic atmosphere and upbeat music, dance classes are a great aerobic exercise that you can have fun doing.

While the anti-anxiety effects of exercise begin after even 5 minutes of aerobic activity, to get the maximum mental health benefits you should workout three to five times a week for at least 30 minutes. So whether you squeeze in a run before work or schedule yoga class in the evening, just get out there and get moving.

Erica Ellis is a certified fitness instructor who teaches barre fusion classes at Flow Space in Bluffton. She is a mother of two and is passionate about exercise that keeps our bodies strong and full of energy as well as a tool to relieve stress and feel more present for our lives. Erica and her husband, Zach, are the owners of Flow Space, a fitness studio in Old Town Bluffton, set to open in early February. Flow Space will offer fusion group fitness classes including Barre, Kettlebell, Yoga and Bootcamp. Find more information online at flowspacefitness.com.