The festive season is almost upon us – the thought alone can cause anxiety and stress – pressures of cooking large meals for volumes of family – (not to mention time spent with those trickier family members!), hectic schedules, the pressure to spend lots of money, no time for exercise, the list goes on!

 Some people who are overweight  can develop a poor self-image, leading to an increase in anxiety levels particularly when confronted with social or formal occasions. These people can have a heightened anxiety level when meeting new people for fear of being judged because of their obesity. These increased anxiety levels can take a serious toll on their quality of life. Anxiety can lead to depression, hypersensitivity, tension and generally thinking the worst of situations. Medical practitioners will often prescribe medications to help reduce their anxiety. A recent study reported that being physically active produces physical responses within the body that reduces stress and anxiety levels irrespective of its intensity.

Generally, in weight loss programs physical activity is used as an intervention to expend more Kcal and increase energy expenditure and ultimately to lose weight. However, there are many more positive benefits that physical activity can cause that far out weight the increased energy expenditure. In fact, most weight loss occurs through the combinations of food being eaten rather than the exercise that accompanies it.

Physical activity has always been recommended as an effective treatment for depression and anxiety but how it reacts within our body has received little attention. How does physical activity make us less anxious? For a start physical activity reduces the resting tension in the muscles that interrupt the anxiety feedback loop to the brain.

As we begin to move, our body begins to break down free fatty acids for fuel and releases them into the bloodstream. The free fatty acids compete with tryptophan (one of the eight essential amino acids) increasing the free fatty acids in the blood stream. This forces the tryptophan to push through the blood-brain barrier where it begins to build more serotonin. The increased serotonin level calms us down and makes us feel more secure.

Another neurotransmitter in the brain that affects anxiety is GABA. When GABA is released through physical activity it inhibits anxiety as it interrupts the obsessive feedback loop within the brain allowing us to calm down. Anti anxiety prescriptions often target an increase in the release of GABA.

When we undertake physical activity the heart starts to pump harder and faster to supply more blood to the muscles responsible for the movement. The heart muscle cells can also produce a peptide molecule that slows down the hyper aroused state.

So the bottom line is that aerobic exercise can play a major role in reducing stress in our body. It is not just about exercising intensely to lose weight or to produce a cathartic effect.

A study of high school students reported that those who were involved in physical activity on most days of the week reduced their anxiety levels more significantly than those who were sedentary.

Increased physical activity levels in the home, garden, active transport, active leisure time can make a major contribution to reducing our stress levels and our anxiety levels, clearly establishing a connection between how much we move and how anxious we feel.

So if you feel anxious get out there and stand more, walk your minimum 10,000 steps per day or increase your free-living daily experiences and feel the difference…

Source: Article provided by Dr Paul Batman, PhD