Anxiety and Exercise Adherence – Ally Van Dorp AEP

There is more and more research coming out with evidence strengthening the positive relationship between exercise and the reduction of anxiety. This is a very broad subject, so this week’s article is simply going to rest on why enjoying exercise is key to exercise adherence to assist in the management of anxiety.

When you’re stressed, the body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone and is released from our adrenal glands. It’s released to protect the body from ‘stress’ by increasing sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhancing the brain’s use of the glucose and increasing the availability of substances that repair tissues. As you can imagine this is really helpful when you’re in a stressful situation which requires that flight or fight response. But when you don’t actually need this response, the effects of cortisol can be detrimental. Overexposure to this stress hormone can cause trouble within almost all your body’s processes, increasing your risk of weight gain, sleep problems, and anxiety. As you can imagine, increasing intensity or amount of anxiety will therefore increase the production of cortisol, creating a nasty cycle between the two.

In relation to exercise, someone with anxiety, more often than not, will experience low self-esteem and confidence, and statistically this reduces their exercise adherence in a public space, such as a gym. With the benefits of exercise being resoundingly positive as a strategy to manage anxiety, it’s of vital importance that we assist in making access to exercise comfortable and enjoyable, reducing the production of more cortisol being pumped into the bloodstream when trying to access this coping strategy. Increasing the enjoyment of exercise will increase adherence and therefore will assist in the reduction of cortisol in the blood stream.

To make exercise enjoyable means taking into consideration individuality and preferences. Don’t think that exercise has to be one thing! Experiment with all the options, and make use of the professionals in this area to help you out when needed!