Here’s a link to a well-known study that is among the most-cited in the scientific literature for the field.
Many if not most of us have experienced anxiety at some point, sometimes just quick spells, but sometimes the anxiety can be chronic and long-term. It’s this chronic, long-term anxiety that is the most dangerous to our health-it’s a form of stress that is directed related to disease and depression.
What I like about this study is that it looks at one of the most obvious and uncomfortable aspects of anxiety- a rapidly beating heart. Even if we don’t know that we are feeling anxious, our heart will give away how our body is feeling. In an anxious state our sympathetic nervous system sends signals that increase our breathing and heart rates, and it can become so severe that some people mistake that pounding heart for a heart attack.
This study looked at the effect of vigorous exercise (running in this case) on several measures of anxiety in the volunteers. Note we aren’t talking about practicing running over a long time and getting more fit and thus a stronger, slower heart- they looked at heart rate before and after a run (or sitting and reading for the control). And here is the key- they compared the effect of running on anxiety for regular runners and non-runners. The question was, then, does a vigorous running session affect a regular runner’s anxiety differently than a non-fit person who does the same run?
Amazingly, the run reduced the fit person’s anxiety symptoms more than it did for the non-fit person. We have known for some time that vigorous exercise reduces all sorts of measures of anxiety (and depression) but this is even more interesting- it seems the more consistent you are in your vigorous exercise, the more effective it is in calming you down!
Vigorous exercise is essentially aerobic exercise performed at 70-80% of your maximum heart rate, and in this experiment they ran for only 20 minutes. So a 50 minute Revo Recharge, Rejuvenate, Rise or Cleanse class will do wonders for reducing your stress and anxiety, but so will our basic Icebreaker class as well.
Come try it out…it really works. We frequently ask students to think about we feel at the end of class, and it’s hard to remember that we were fearful, worried, and tired before class started. Vigorous aerobic exercise is truly a transformative experience and the effects are both immediate and long term.