Our general well-being is linked to a healthy combination of important lifestyle factors. Exercise is not singled out as the defining lifestyle quality factor but being physically active has been proven to be a powerful catalyst for succeeding in all other factors.
It is believed that physical exercise reorganises our brain to better respond to stress by lowering levels of anxiety.
You may think exercise could lead to more anxiety due to the increased heart rate and general excitableness of the body during physical activity but this study suggests this is not the case. Researchers have explored the effect exercise has on the brain to determine that exercise lowers anxiety while at the same time encouraging the growth of new neurons in the ventral hippocampus. There is even the consideration of how exercise could be a useful tool for helping treat anxiety disorders.
Is anxiety related to our fitness levels
I found this next view of an evolutionary perspective quite interesting. One of the researchers suggests that anxiety often manifests itself in ‘avoidant behaviour’ – that is behaviour intent on minimising risk to one’s own safety or survival.
Our brains are highly adaptable in how it processes information and influences suitable responses appropriate to our environment and our own lifestyle.
Less active or less fit individuals may be more likely to develop anxiety. As such less active and unfit individuals may be less effective at controlling the ‘fight or flight’ response in high risk survival scenarios for example, resulting in a greater tendency towards behaviour which avoids such risks.
Exercise intensity is important
Moderate to high intensity exercise does indeed raise your cortisol levels and we know cortisol levels are already raised by high stress levels. So, exercising as a means to reduce tension if you are already suffering higher levels of stress needs to be carefully considered. Lower intensity, calming and balancing activity, such as yoga or Pilates, would likely be far more effective than a chronic cardio session.
Most of us have heard time and again the daily recommended levels for exercise is 150 minutes a week or half hour 5 days a week. However, these may be acceptable general guidelines but each of us is different and may realise different results with different activity frequencies.
The study consisted of 63 women who performed a combination of aerobic and resistance exercise over a period of 16 weeks. The women were divided into 3 groups who would perform the routine either 1,2 or 3 days per week. Interestingly the health benefits gained at the end of the period were the same for each group.
This is good news for the older female population who find lack of time as the major obstacle to exercise adherence. This study may help prove and motivate many people to realise that even low frequency and lower intensity exercise, such as Pilates, can help preserve lean muscle, aid correct posture and promote healthy ageing.
A weekly Pilates class is an ideal exercise routine that promotes multiple well-being factors; correct postural alignment, a stronger and more stable body as well as developing a smooth and movement-integrated breathing rhythm, excellent for reducing levels of anxiety.