My anecdotal experience absolutely shows a connection between exercise and reduced anxiety coupled with a greater sense of control. Therefore, I was thrilled to see recent research published by The Washington Post that points to this connection. This article, by Kelly McGonigal, was adapted from her book, The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage. Here is a summary:
Research shows that the exercise “high” is linked to endocannabinoids, brain chemicals that reduce anxiety and increase dopamine in the brain’s reward system, which causes feelings of optimism. Endocannabinoids also cause increased pleasure from being around others, encouraging people to connect.
More Sensitivity to Joy
Higher circulating levels of dopamine causes the brain’s reward center to feel increased pleasure, motivation, and hope. Exercise can relieve depression and increase happiness.
The latest research suggests that lactate, released by muscles during exercise, travels through the bloodstream to the brain, where it can reduce anxiety and increase courage.
Improved Feelings of Trust and Belonging
Exercising with a group triggers a release of endorphins, which help us bond with others. Endorphins help people form friendships.
Physical Accomplishments Build Self Esteem
“When you move with power, your brain encodes the explosive contraction of muscles, senses the speed of the action and understands, ‘I am powerful.'”
Best of all, any form of exercise will work. Even if you are not “athletic,” you can walk, run, attend exercise and yoga classes, and much more. If you are a parent, help your children find sports or physical activities that they find most enjoyable. Our bodies are meant to move; the more, the better.