The best thing you can do in times of high stress may be the one thing you don’t want to do. That thing? Get some exercise.
While exercise has long been associated with improved mood, stress reduction and is even sometimes prescribed as a natural treatment for depression and anxiety, a new study (via Science Daily) suggests that a workout has an immediately positive and sustained affect on a individual’s state of mind.
In fact, a brisk walk, a jog, a strength training class, or a spin on the elliptical may help a person better cope with stress and anxiety in the hours, and even days, after they leave the gym. Even more interesting, the study found that 30 minutes of physical activity better equip a person with the tools to stay calm and cool under stress than the same amount of rest.
Kinesiology researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health wanted to see how both exercise and rest individually affect a person’s ability to cope with anxiety, if at all. The researchers had the participants — college-age students — perform two tasks on different days. At one point, the participants were asked to perform 30 minutes of intense cycling; on another occasion, they were asked to rest for the same amount of time.
After each activity, the participants answered questions related to their state of mind. Additionally, they were shown images that were designed to trigger a variety of emotional responses, from happiness to anger and fear — not unlike the responses one would experience in regular daily life.
Here’s what the researchers discovered: exercise and rest are equally effective when it comes to their shared ability to quell anxiety. But exercise proved more powerful than rest when it came to dealing with emotional triggers — when shown the images by the researchers, the participants who’d merely rested experienced an increase in anxiety levels, while the exercisers maintained their emotional equilibrium.
The Science Daily article quotes one of the lead researchers on the implications of the study’s findings.
“We found that exercise helps to buffer the effects of emotional exposure. If you exercise, you’ll not only reduce your anxiety, but you’ll be better able to maintain that reduced anxiety when confronted with emotional events,” concluded J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology.
Does exercise help you deal with anxiety and stress?