Stressed? Exercise may help ward off anxiety

Exercise may help us cope with everyday stressors -- even after we leave the gym, a new study finds.
Exercise may help us cope with everyday stressors -- even after we leave the gym, a new study finds.Getty Images file / Today

By MyHealthNewsDaily staff

Exercise not only improves mood, it may help people maintain reduced anxiety in the face of stressful or emotional events, a new study says.

While many studies have shown a link between exercise and better mood, it was not known "whether these positive effects endure when we're faced with everyday stressors once we leave the gym," said study researcher J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

In the study, participants engaged in either a 30-minute period of rest, or 30 minutes of cycling on two days. A survey designed to measure anxiety levels was given before and after the activity. 

Participants then viewed a series of pleasant pictures of babies, families and puppies; unpleasant images, such as depictions of violence; and neutral images including plates, cups and furniture. Afterward, their anxiety levels were measured a final time.

Participants' surveys, completed shortly after their 30 minutes of exercise or quiet rest, showed that these conditions were equally effective at reducing anxiety levels.

However, after viewing the images, the anxiety levels of those who had rested rose back to their initial levels, while those who had exercised maintained their reduced anxiety levels, the researchers said.

"We found that exercise helps to buffer the effects of emotional exposure. If you exercise, you'll not only reduce your anxiety, but you'll be better able to maintain that reduced anxiety when confronted with emotional events," Smith said.

The study will be published  in an upcoming issue of the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.