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How to use exercise to reduce anxiety

We all know that exercise benefits our bodies. What’s becoming increasingly clear is the effect of movement on our mental health.

This is particularly true when it comes to the links between exercise and anxiety.

37% of women and 30% of men in the UK reported high levels of anxiety in 2022/2023, according to recent research. It’s a significant increase from 10 years ago, when the numbers were 22% and 18%. The potential power of exercise to reduce anxiety is more important than ever.

Studies have shown that exercise works to relieve anxiety in a variety of different ways. Movement releases endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ chemical, into your body. It also boosts levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin that make you feel more alert. On a simple level, exercise is also a good distraction, allowing you to focus on the present.

But how do you make exercise and anxiety management work for you? Our tips will show you how to create a personalised routine to reduce stress and anxiety in your life.

Use exercise as a break in your day

If you already have a busy schedule, it may seem impossible to add exercise to your daily routine. But getting active doesn’t have to take up a lot of time. Try ‘exercise snacking’: brief bouts of exercise that you can sprinkle throughout your day. Schedule 5-minute breaks to get up and move.

  • A quick walk outside
  • HIIT moves, like reps of lunges, burpees, or squats
  • A short yoga vinyasa flow
  • Do some chores around the house  
  • Have some fun, dance it out!

Building a regular exercise routine works best when you keep yourself accountable. It doesn’t have to be just you: get the whole family moving if that helps you stay motivated.

Pick practices that fit your style

Different types of exercise have different pay-offs, so finding the best exercise for anxiety is often a personal choice. Anxiety management for some people might be all about the adrenalin rush. Higher impact exercise routines as straightforward as running or as structured as a high intensity interval training (HIIT) can satisfy that need, and work as an effective distraction against stressors.

Prefer a slower pace? Holistic exercise routines, like yoga, incorporate meditation into physical activity that benefit body and mind. Meditation is a form of mindful exercise that uses breathing exercises and sensational awareness to help you slow down and self-reflect. Health experts actually recommend breathing exercises for stress, and it’s a practice you can take off the mat and use in the moments you need it. Try these simple breathwork techniques to get started.

Combine exercise with self-care

Pay attention to your limits, and do not overlook the benefits of self-care after physical activity. After all, if you don’t recover properly after exercise, you can easily get injured and lose motivation. Self-care can look like a soothing bath to ease muscle tension, taking time to stretch before and after exercise, and embracing some quiet relaxation just for yourself.

When you do find that practice of exercise and self-care that you enjoy, remember to set a consistent routine with achievable goals so you don’t lose motivation.

Finding a workout routine can feel overwhelming at first but there are little things you can do to make it seem less daunting:

  • Pick a time to exercise the day before to give you time to prepare
  • Get your workout kit ready the day before you plan to exercise
  • Start small – don’t push yourself too hard at the start with manageable workouts
  • There might be days when you may not feel up to exercising, don’t beat yourself up about this and give yourself the break your body needs and restart your routine the next day

Find your workout community

Mental health is impacted by our access to the communities and people we love. Having an exercise-based community that you check-in with each week is a great way to engage with people and places outside of your home. This can involve joining a gym, a class or a running club. 

Stay present

Intentional exercise and anxiety management is a helpful practice, and has transferable use for your general wellbeing. Try to stay present in the moment, as you maintain a pattern of activities you enjoy, and don’t be afraid to try something new.

Find out more about how David Lloyd Clubs can help get you into your best exercise routine.

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