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Anxiety and Exercise

           Being a psychological as well as a physiological disorder, anxiety is characterized by changes in thought, body movements, emotions and behaviors of a person. People with anxiety are in most cases worried about occurrences in their daily life even when there are no reasons for their worries for example, having worries about the safety of the people they love like family members. It controls ones thinking to even the extend that it interferes with their daily activities like school, work, and social relationships and behaviors. Anxiety shows itself in different ways including a state of being withdrawn and appearing to be depressed.

Anxiety can manifest itself in infants, children, adolescents and even adults and it can be caused by stress and depression and in some cases it tends to run in families. Anxiety can be characterized by the lack of sleep or sleep that is accompanied by frequent nightmares. Peoples with anxiety disorders may experience a feeling of nausea, having headaches and muscle aches, and can even result to vomiting. Anxiety can be a serious disorder to the extent that one has to seek for medical treatment.

 In adolescents, anxiety disorders can be considered as important psychological disorders. Though the ways in which anxiety manifests itself in various age groups can be different, general symptoms of anxiety, social phobia and depression are common among the adolescents. Anxiety disorders in adolescents may be in most cases co morbid with drug and substance abuse, depression and disorders in conduct. Anxiety disorders and anxiety symptoms in adolescents also come as a result of the changes in development that accompany the transformation form childhood to adulthood.

 Anxiety can be a serious obstruction to academic performance and achievement especially a high degree of it. On the contrary, research agrees that a moderate amount of anxiety can be a motivator to a student hence encouraging them to achieve better academically. Therefore, anxiety of some degree can be considered as being necessary for learning and achievements in academics.

Anxiety can be related to self esteem. Self esteem can be related to psychology and physiology including the personality of an individual e.g. shyness, behavior and the performance of duties and responsibilities and personal concepts like anxiety and depression. Research has shown that there is a relationship between anxiety and gender as well as anxiety and age. For instance, though self esteem decreases and signs of depression and anxiety increase with time in adolescent males and adolescent females, adolescent males have a higher self esteem than adolescent females.

In the early stages of adolescence, social phobia and anxiety is highly prevalent but this decreases with the increase in age. Anxiety can be associated with how adolescents perceive their physical appearance. Though in their stage of adolescence, adolescent males and females view their physical appearances negatively and equally, with the increase in age, adolescence boys view their physical appearance with less anxiety than the adolescence girls.

 Anxiety and exercise

There are different explanations based on psychology as to why exercise can reduce anxiety. It has been explained that by physical activity and exercise, unpleasant stimuli and complains of body movements that are painful are reduced. Through physical activity and exercise, people socially interact with others, getting the social support that they need and hence reducing cases of anxiety. Objective measures can be used to give validation to the relationship that exists between exercise and anxiety. For instance, some of these measures include the use of pedometers which are used to record the steps taken by a runner and hence giving an approximate of the distance that has been traveled. Other measures that can be used are the heart rate monitors and instruments of body fat and all these give an assessment of the physical activity and exercise employed.

These can be used to measure the reductions in anxiety in children, adolescents as well as adults after exercise. Different studies have shown that significant anxiety levels can be decreased by exercise. For example, a study carried out in 2006 on male adolescents revealed that the adolescents who had regular exercises had clinically diagnosed reduction in the level of disorders that were based on anxiety. These disorders include disorders of stress and phobia. Male adolescents who do not participate in exercising activities have high chances of getting mental disorders and problems in their health as Strohle, (2007) found out.

 Among the factors that lead to adolescents having anxiety is pressure from their peers. These can be pressures of school performance, the need to please others, having girlfriends, the pressure to learn how to drive etc. Though these pressures are manifested in both girls and boys, they are more prevalent in adolescent girls than they are in adolescent boys. Exercise helps to overcome these peer pressures because when engaged in physical activity and exercise, an adolescent is able to let go of their emotions that is exercise cleanses the body through the provision of an emotion’s outlet. Exercise involves activities like dancing, running, playing games and even trainings on relaxation.

 Moreover, there is a universal belief that exercise and physical activity can positively impact a person’s mood and anxiety. Physical activity and exercise can be generally associated with the well being and the improvement of an adolescent’s mood and anxiety. Physical activity and exercise is associated with the occurrence and prevalence of anxiety as well as depression disorders. Exercise and training have a potential curative as well as preventive activity in people with anxiety and depression. In the management of anxiety, physical activity and exercise is widely associated with various benefits in health. It is essential since other than in management of anxiety; lack of exercise can lead to negative effects on ones health and their general well being.

Through studies of adolescent males, researchers have shown that exercise and physical activity are related to the reduction of signs of anxiety and depression (Motl et al., 2004). Moreover, apart from the management of anxiety, exercise also helps in the treatment as well as the rehabilitation of many other medical conditions. Since anxiety is a psychological disorder, improvement of one’s well being physically through exercise leads to improved well being of an individual. Therefore, it is accepted that exercise positively affects moods and anxiety.

 The measurement of the habits of exercising can be interpreted in several ways concerning the cause and effect of mood or anxiety disorders. For instance, Farmer et al., (1998) showed that exercising regularly led to a reduction of the possibility of developing depression and anxiety especially in adolescent males. Regarding the same, Motl et al., (2004) showed that changes that occur naturally especially in physical activity are in an inverse way related to the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression especially in the early stages of adolescence. Exercise and training reduces and/or eliminates cases of anxiety. On the contrast, it can also cause severe and intense panic attacks as reported by Broocks et al., (1998). Broocks also reported that it can lead to increase in anxiety especially in people who suffer from panic disorders though these panic disorders are not prevalent in adolescents.

 Studies have given evidence that exercise and physical activity can be used for the treatment of anxiety and depression cases. Though the mechanisms through which exercise improves depression and anxiety disorders are not well known, it can be perceived to be an interaction of the psychological and neurobiological mechanisms that underlie the causes and occurrences of anxiety. Exercise and physical activity can be said to moderate the effects hence managing anxiety. However, there are a variety of psychological factors that are seemingly involved in the efficiency of training in the cure of anxiety. These psychological factors include increase in self efficacy, changes in self concept, distraction and a mastery sense.

 For effective management of anxiety, one has to choose the type and mode of the exercise and physical activity. After choosing, testing of the exercise should be carried out accordingly. Effective prescription of the exercise to be undertaken usually is completed with the training program set going and carefully monitored. To manage anxiety and depression well, it is recommended that one undertakes three or four exercise and training sessions in a week and these sessions should each be carried out in a period of at least 20 minutes.


Broocks A et al., (1998). Comparison of aerobic exercise, domipramine and placebo in the treatment of panic disorder. Am J psychiatry 155:603-609
Farmer M.E et al., (1998). Physical activity and depressive symptoms: the NHANE epidemiological follow up study. Am J epidemiol 128:1340-1351.
Motl R.W et al., (2004). Naturally occurring changes in physical activity are inversely related to depressive symptoms during early adolescent. Psychosom med 66:336-342
Strahle, A. et al., (2007). Physical activity and prevalence and incidence of mental disorder in adolescents and young adults, Psychological Medicine, 37, 1657-1666.
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