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High-Intensity Exercise: The Best Way To Reduce Anxiety

Globally, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death, and anxiety and stress contribute to heart disease. Most experts agree that a moderate to low amount of regular exercise can ease anxiety. However, a new study by researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia shows that a relatively high-intensity exercise program is better for reducing stress and anxiety that may lead to heart disease. Even more interesting was the finding that older women especially benefited from high-intensity exercise and its accompanying reduction in anxiety.

Until recently, it was believed that the traditional recommendation of exercising for 30 minutes several times a week at a moderate exercise intensity was more effective in reducing anxiety than either a low or high intensity program.

Richard Cox, PhD, professor of counseling psychology at the University of Missouri, carried out the research. In the study, female participants, ages 18 to 20 and 35 to 45, completed three experimental sessions. Each session started with a test to determine each participant's anxiety. After the test, the women were divided into three groups: no exercise (control group), moderate exercise and high-intensity exercise. Afterwards, anxiety levels of the participants were measured at 5, 30, 60, and 90 minutes post-exercise. Anxiety levels were not affected by exercise intensity at baseline or immediately after exercise, but a difference favoring the high intensity level was seen at 30, 60 and 90 minutes post-exercise.

While all groups experienced a decline in anxiety (including the control group), the high-intensity exercise group experienced the sharpest drop.

Even those who don't want to go to a gym or join a team can benefit from fast or brisk walking, swimming or jogging. A treadmill or elliptical trainer at home can be as good as running for a high-intensity workout. High-intensity workouts not only burn calories, they also balance neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain that create a feeling of wellbeing and calm.

Interestingly, age was also an important factor. The effect on women aged 31 to 45 was nearly twice as great as the effect on the 18- to 30-year-old group. This is news that researchers say needs further exploring, because the research appears to suggest that the beneficial effects of exercise on anxiety may only apply to older women and not to younger women.

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