Being physically active has countless health benefits. It helps prevent weight problems and reduces the risk of serious illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But according to a recent study from Canada, regular exercise can also improve how people perceive the world around them. Especially those suffering from anxiety or depression can profit from workouts or even just short brisk walks, researchers found.
Exercising and relaxation techniques like yoga have long been successfully utilized in the treatment of patients with mood and anxiety disorders, said Adam Heenan, a researcher and PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Queen's University, Ontario, and co-author of the study in a news release by the university. What sets this study apart is that it was able to demonstrate how participants perceived ambiguous events like being approached by an unknown figure. It found that those who had previously exercised, for example by walking or running on a treadmill, felt less apprehensive about the encounter than others who had remained sedentary. The results were similar for those who engaged in relaxation exercises.
Their findings could be useful in the treatment of overly anxious or depressed individuals, the researchers concluded. If physical exercise can indeed manipulate how such persons feel about their surroundings, following an appropriate regimen may have significant therapeutic advantages, they suggested.
Earlier studies have shown that exercising does not only stimulate the brain but, at the same time, can also induce calmness and reduce the effects of stress. Rigorous physical activity increases the secretion of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that can induce a sense of relaxation and wellbeing.
While being exposed to a certain amount of stress is unavoidable and may even be beneficial in some situations, chronic stress can lead to multiple damaging effects, including psychological dysfunctions. Stress-related anxiety disorders rank among the most common psychiatric illnesses, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
Some studies found that people who maintained a regular exercise routine were up to 25 percent less likely to develop depression and/or anxiety disorders than those who did not.
Other research showed that habitual exercisers have on average more self-esteem, are less prone to mood swings, sleep more soundly, are better equipped to deal with life's challenges, and run a lower risk of succumbing to age-related cognitive decline, including Alzheimer's disease.
Naturally, different people respond differently to exercising, and not all activities produce the same results. What experts say they know for certain, however, is that sedentary behavior is harmful in many ways, and is considered a "silent killer" that contributes not only to diseases but also shortens people's life span. For this reason alone, it would be worthwhile to start moving, wouldn't it?
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