WHEN I WAS A KID, my dad used a very effective
method when my brother and I were fighting. He made us run a
lap around the block, and it was a pretty big block! After becoming
winded, we didn't have the inclination to argue any more. We
felt more relaxed.
Exercise especially exercise that
gets you breathing hard has a relaxing, mood-elevating
effect. It feels as if you accumulate "stress particles"
in your blood, which make you feel tense or nervous or on edge
or stressed out or in a bad mood, and it feels like exercise
burns off those particles as fuel, leaving your system clean.
I don't know much about cars, but I have
heard that it's bad for a car to only be driven around town.
Lots of slow driving makes the carburetor accumulate gunk. Once
in awhile you need to get on the freeway and open it up, get
that engine really hot and it burns out all the gunk.
When you get an adrenaline jolt
a worry that passes through your mind or something that makes
you a little upset adrenaline, cortisol, lactate and assorted
chemicals are released into your blood stream. Including extra
fatty acids. Exercise forces your body to burn all these stress
by-products. So rather than taking several hours or all day for
this gunk to slowly get filtered out of your blood, exercise
burns it all off in twenty minutes, leaving you feeling refreshed
and relaxed. It also burns off the extra fatty acids cortisol
has released into your blood stream, removing the health risk
associated with triglycerides.
If you go too long or too hard, however,
your body will start producing excessive stress hormones, defeating
your purpose. You want to exercise so you're breathing hard,
but still able to get plenty of air and keep going. A good rule
of thumb is that you should still be capable of carrying on a
conversation while you work out. And you want to stay at it long
enough to have an effect (twenty to forty minutes) but not so
long it taxes your body to the point of stress.
If you aren't accustomed to exercising,
start slowly, learn how to do it, how much to rest in between,
how to prevent injuries, and if you have any medical conditions,
talk to a physician who knows something about exercise before
For a method of managing a highly responsive
adrenal system, regular aerobic exercise is one of the best.
Research has proven that twenty to forty
minutes of aerobic exercise reliably reduces anxiety and improves
mood, not just while you're doing it, but for hours afterwards.
In a study of rats, they had one group
of rats exercise on an exercise wheel, and another group that
didn't exercise. When the rats were exposed to stress, the exercising
rats released measurably less norepinephrine into their brains.
Norepinephrine is a hormone that produces adrenaline. In other
words, the exercising rats had a healthier response to the stressful
At the University of Wisconsin, and then
again in a Canadian study, exercise was shown to significantly
decrease anxiety levels in the participants.
British researchers found that exercise
not only improved the subjects' moods, but it improved their
creative thinking (assessed using the Torrance test). Specifically, it significantly
increased their flexibility score: They were able to come up
with a greater variety of responses. This would ultimately lower
anxiety because it is easier to solve your problems if you can
come up with better solutions. In the study, the participants
did twenty to twenty-five minutes of aerobic exercise. High-impact
and low-impact both worked. When the researchers posed a problem,
the people who had exercised thought up a greater range of strategies
to solve it.
In another study at Baruch College, after
twenty minutes of aerobic exercise, the participants' measures
of creative problem-solving "increased significantly."
Researchers at Scripps College tested people
between the ages of fifty-five and ninety-one years old for mental
ability and physical activity. They compared sixty-two of them
who were physically active (exercising regularly) with sixty-two
people were relatively sedentary. The exercisers scored significantly
better on all mental abilities: reasoning, vocabulary skills,
reaction time, and memory.
In a study at Stanford University, healthy
but sedentary adults who had trouble sleeping (taking longer
than twenty-five minutes to fall asleep, for example, and sleeping
an average of only six hours per night) were put on an exercise
program for three months. By the end of the study, the exercisers
were sleeping about forty-five minutes longer and falling asleep
fifteen minutes faster, on average. The ones who didn't exercise
It was once believed that the brain did
not generate any new brain cells. But that has now been proven
a false assumption. New brain cells form throughout the life
span. Trying to determine if anything can stimulate the brain
to produce more brain cells, neurologists at the Salk Institute
found that mice who exercised regularly on a spinning wheel had
far more new brain cells after six weeks than the mice who hadn't
WHEN NOTHING WORKS
What if you feel anxious and try to relax
but it just makes you feel more agitated? And then you try to
figure out what's bothering you and work on that and that doesn't
work either? When you seem agitated for no reason and nothing
seems to work, I suggest that you consider the possibility that
you need exercise.
A need for exercise can often pass for
nervousness in the same way that being thirsty can often be mistaken
as hunger. They are similar feelings or have similar sensations.
If you feel agitated, get some exercise.
If you're feeling stiff or sore, and not up to exercising, try
yoga or simple calisthenics. In other words, start to
get in shape for exercising. I'm not talking about starting an
"Exercise Program." Just do something light and see
if you feel better. Do a few pushups, a few sit-ups, maybe some
jumping jacks, and see how you feel. When you stretch, stretch
very gently, more gently than you think will do any good, hold
the position for fifteen to twenty seconds, and slowly release
it. I recommend Judy Altar's book, Stretch and Strengthen.
Our bodies have clearly evolved to get
quite a bit of activity, and the body rebels when we don't get
enough. It's as much of a need as protein. We would feel bad
and physically deteriorate if we didn't eat enough protein. Without
exercise, we deteriorate and feel bad too. It's a need,
not a bonus or a thing you might do if you like.
And, one final fact for you to consider,
since we're here to manage anxiety. Psychologist Robert Dustman,
one of the top researchers into the effect of aging on the brain,
found that when people exercise, it keeps their brain producing
more alpha brain waves. The alpha rhythm is associated with the
ability to stay calm under pressure.
One of the best methods for reducing stress
and anxiety is to exercise regularly.