We are all riding the wave of the unknown. Where will we land after this pandemic, if there even is an “after,” the state of our nation, injustice toward marginalized communities, our careers, wars across the planet … the list of heavy-hitting stuff is never-ending this year.
However, that’s not to dismiss the small stuff. Menial tasks, car payments, arguments with loved ones, breakups. Stress is the stuff of life; anxiety is the chronic result. There are many ways to cope, like herbs, massages, acupuncture, and even medication. But one practice remains true, accessible to most, healthy, and free—movement.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, studies show that regular aerobic exercise can decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and boost self-esteem. And that doesn’t mean we must do an hour of intense HIIT every day. Just five minutes of aerobic activity a day can stimulate anti-anxiety effects. Try five minutes straight of jump rope, or a brisk walk, or dancing around to a favorite song.
Aerobic activity simply means exercise that improves our body’s circulation and overall cardiovascular health from our intake of oxygen. While that can mean an intense workout, it can also mean a substantial yoga flow or some uninterrupted and dedicated floor Pilates. It doesn’t necessarily need to be high intensity. Here’s how it works.
On the most basic level, our cortisol and literal thoughts are diverted, if momentarily, to the healthy task at hand: moving our bodies without injuring ourselves. But it does much more for the mind than serve as a healthy distraction.
Juices our happy chemicals
Taking the time to raise our heart rates via movement rather than a panic attack results in a positive change of brain chemistry. It increases the availability of our vital happiness chemicals, which not only make us feel joy, but also peace and relaxation. Exercise triggers neurochemicals like gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, dopamine, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and even our own natural endocannabinoids, which we tend to seek from products like CBD.
Helps us with decision-making
We don’t always make the best decisions when we are anxious. In fact, that’s when we tend to be the most negatively impulsive. The medial temporal lobe of the brain contains the ventral hippocampus, which regulates executive function and informs our ideas of real or imagined threats. This means that stresses big or small (like the ones we mentioned earlier) can make us feel like impending doom is occurring, aka affecting us immediately as an imminent threat to our livelihood.
While those are excellent and justified reasons to be stressed, acting as though it’s an immediate threat to our lives every waking moment of the day isn’t helpful, nor is it good for our health. Exercise helps activate that region of the brain, which controls those fears and regulates normal function, and our responses to stress so we don’t constantly spazz.
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