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Want to ward off anxiety attacks? Let’s get physical, expert says

“Bottom line: when it comes to treating anxiety, more exercise is better.”

Most of us have likely experienced anxiety at some point in our lives, but a simple physical activity or exercise can help it ward off, an expert said.

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear that can be mild or severe.

It is considered severe when people find it hard to control their worries and their feelings of anxiety are more constant that it can often affect their daily lives.


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Doctor John Ratey, who is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and an internationally recognized expert in neuropsychiatry, said the toll of anxiety can be high.

He said it can increase a person’s risk for other psychiatric disorders like depression and can contribute to diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

He added that one sobering study showed that people with anxiety also tend to be more sedentary and do less intense forms of physical activity.

According to Ratey, exercising or simply doing any physical activity is the best non medical solution for preventing and treating anxiety.

“Research shows aerobic exercise is especially helpful,” he said.

“A simple bike ride, dance class, or even a brisk walk can be a powerful tool for those suffering from chronic anxiety,” he added.

The doctor said engaging in an exercise or any physical activity can help ease anxiety because it “diverts you from the very thing you are anxious about.”

He said moving your body also decreases muscle tension, lowering the body’s contribution to feeling anxious.

Ratey further noted that exercising regularly also builds up resources that bolster resilience against stormy emotions.

“Getting your heart rate up changes brain chemistry, increasing the availability of important anti-anxiety neurochemicals, including serotonin, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and endocannabinoids,” he explained.

“Exercise activates frontal regions of the brain responsible for executive function, which helps control the amygdala, our reacting system to real or imagined threats to our survival,” he added.

Citing a recent meta-analysis in the journal Anxiety-Depression, Ratey said people with anxiety disorders who reported high-level physical activity were better protected against developing anxiety symptoms than those who reported low physical activity.

“Bottom line: when it comes to treating anxiety, more exercise is better,” he noted.

“But if you’re just starting out, don’t despair. Some research also shows that just a single bout of exercise can still help ease anxiety when it strikes. People experienced improvement no matter which types of activity they tried,” he added.

Written by Angelle De Leon

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