Regular physical exercise is known to improve mood and increase feelings of well-being. Therefore, regular sports practice is recommended. Most studies on the relationship between physical exercise and anxiety, for example, conclude that the specific practice of sport can reduce the level of state anxiety, that is, the anxiety reaction experienced in a specific and limited situation. Likewise, some studies indicate that the regular practice of exercise can reduce the levels of trait anxiety, which refers to the general anxiety linked to biological and personality factors, typical of people predisposed to be more anxious, impressionable, with a tendency to over-assess risks and maintain a high level of alertness.
Sport and our biological architecture
There are mechanisms involved in the relationship between exercise and anxiety, which are mainly biological and psychological in nature. Regarding the biological mechanisms involved, it can be said that physical exercise improves the regulation of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, affecting the autonomic nervous system. This improvement can increase the organism’s ability to modulate its reaction to environmental demands.
Studies also reveal that physical exercise stimulates the immune system, since it facilitates the elimination of harmful substances from the body, and favors its regeneration. It also encourages an increase in the number of lymphocytes – white blood cells – reducing the risk of disease onset. Also, the practice of sports promotes a long-term increase in serotonin levels, which is involved in the body’s response to stress. Increasing serotonin levels in the brain can help improve mood and reduce anxiety.
Physical activity contributes to the stimulation of the pituitary gland that acts in the production of endorphins. These internal morphine’s are hormones linked to neurotransmission functions, involved in the regulation of pain and the feeling of well-being. The natural stimulation of this system through physical exercise can cause analgesia, which implies less sensation of pain and improves the mood due to its euphoric and relaxing effects, in addition to modifying the mood towards good humor and generating positive thoughts.
As far as psychological mechanisms are concerned, it is observed that physical exercise regulates and improves mood. Several studies show that it facilitates the management of negative emotions, such as anger and rage, and it helps to improve the quality of sleep. It also increases the feeling of strength, security, and control over oneself and the environment. In this sense, it contributes to improving the feeling of self-efficacy.
Weekly practice of an exercise can optimize self-esteem since changes in the body contribute to improving body image and promoting feelings of greater control in skills and physical capacity. It is important to choose physical activities that are pleasant and enjoyable so that they are regularly practiced.
The prescription of physical activity in people who are anxious, depressed, panicky, or simply have life problems, has several benefits. Not only for the traditional virtues but because strategically the person is forced to leave the house, to breathe fresh air in sports activities abroad, or to socialize in gyms. There are studies that attest to this using aerobic exercise training as facilitators of therapy in panic disorders, or effects of sports performance in situations of pressure and anxiety or the effects of sports performance in emotional life, or the comparison of physical exercise and the application of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
The World Health Organization recommends doing physical exercise 4 or 5 times a week. This average activity helps a person to activate their social life, their endorphins, and to connect with their body in a positive way. The benefits are numerous such as cardio-vascular, cardio-respiratory, strengthening and increasing muscle mass, eliminating fat, and strengthening joints. Moreover, exercise improves the psychological effects such as relaxation, the production of positive thoughts, the cutting of stressful activities, The stimulation of the creativity, among other factors. In addition, physical practice activates the BDNF, the neurotrophic factor, stimulating in the production and neuronal replacement and production of neuroplastic networks.
Take the time
All of us should take the time to exercise: put on our shoes and go for a walk or run. It is not about being a secondary activity, but rather to give it a status of importance, which does not happen frequently. The context in which the practice is carried out is valuable. The green and the birds, the river, the earth, the park, the music in my headphones if I wish, the sound of nature: all tempting images to create that space.
Many walk to work or because they have to make a purchase, or going out for dinner, etc. There is no right or wrong activity, but creating the space in your life for exercise to emerge is extremely beneficial in many ways. Finally, making time for exercise is an investment in yourself. We all can tell ourselves: “This is a moment that I dedicate to myself.”
Marcelo R. Ceberio