Exercise to Ease Chronic Anxiety This Year 

A new year offers the potential for new opportunities and experiences. 

For those who struggle with general and consistent anxiety, however, the prospect of the new year and the expectations that come with it can be tricky to maneuver. 

It’s with this in mind that our physical therapy team reminds you of one of the most natural and effective ways to ease anxiety symptoms any time of year is through regular exercise. 

Going for a walk, taking a bike ride, hitting the gym or signing up for an exercise class … they all can be powerfully effective tools for easing anxiety and its effects on your life and health. 

Anxiety Disorders 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), an estimated one in five adults and one in three teens experience chronic anxiety disorder each year. This disorder is defined as anxiety that’s persistent, excessive and routinely triggered by situations that aren’t actually threats. 

Though it’s a psychological condition, anxiety can take a toll on one’s physical health. 

High stress and anxiety have been linked to higher blood pressure and a greater risk of heart disease and stroke. 

Also, those who have high levels of anxiety tend to be more sedentary and avoid challenging situations, which can also have long-term health consequences. 

So, how does exercise help ease anxiety? Here are four ways this happens: 

Your brain chemistry changes. 

When you exercise, your body releases chemicals, like dopamine and endorphins in the brain, which contribute toward making you feel calmer and happier. 

General tension diminishes. 

Whether working out, competing, playing or dancing, moving your body reduces general muscle tension in the body, decreasing your general feeling of anxiety. 

You get distracted. 

Exercising can have a distracting effect, diverting your mind from the things about which you are or have been anxious. It’s also been shown that exercising outdoors, in nature, can calm your mind. 

You give your brain a boost. 

Several studies have shown that regular exercise can maintain, and even improve, cognitive function in the brain. That means exercise can actually help you strengthen your ability to weather high-stress situations. 

On its own, exercise may not completely solve your anxiety issues. Those suffering from chronic anxiety should discuss options with their personal physician. 

When possible, though, studies show that regular exercise should be part of any natural, long-term treatment for anxiety. 

Sticking with an Exercise Program 

And, if you struggle to stick with a consistent exercise regimen? 

Don’t just join a gym. Experts agree you should find an activity or activities you enjoy. 

Recruit a friend or friends for some social support, and set a SMART goal – an acronym that describes a goal that’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based.” 

Also, visit a physical therapist if pain, discomfort, weaknesses or chronic conditions are keeping you from exercising safely and consistently. 

Following an initial assessment, a physical therapist can develop a personalized exercise program that best aligns with your individual circumstances and goals. 

Use Fitness Apps in 2020…but Use with Caution, says Lynnwood PT

As more people continue to turn to health apps on their smartphones to help achieve goals related to exercise and weight loss, it’s important to use such tools with an element of personal caution, says Lynnwood physical therapist Nancy Mitrano. 

Tens of thousands of health and fitness apps available to consumers, with estimates between 97,000 to 325,000 in existence. These include popular apps like Strava, Lose It!, Couch to 5K, FitStar Personal Trainer, etc. – apps available to help people achieve goals related to weight loss, healthy eating, and improved fitness. 

“The emergence of health and fitness apps has definitely been a positive development in the health care world as many have been successful in engaging people and empowering them to take on a greater personal role in their health care journeys,” said Mitranoowner of Impact Physical Therapy in Lynnwood. “That said, even the best fitness apps can’t address everything that’s important when it comes to safely and effectively achieving personal goals.” 

The missing ingredient is obvious, Mitrano added. 

“Fitness apps don’t know you – your medical history, your current strengths and weaknesses … how to get you to your goals in a way that’s safe and which takes into consideration the limits of your body and current fitness levels,” Mitrano said. “Many of these apps are great for helping people track their fitness goals, holding them accountable through reminders and tips, and often providing them with an online support system. But the app’s user is the key to the entire equation.” 

With this in mind, Mitrano provides the following Do’s and Don’ts for safely and effectively using health apps: 

DO use apps to track your goals. Whether it’s tracking distance, calories consumed/burned, workout times, etc., this is one of the most effective uses of health apps and smartphones. And, tracking progress only helps in the achievement of goals. 

DON’T use apps to set your goals. Running a 5K, for instance, may seem like a great goal. But based on current fitness levels, injury history, movement limitations, etc., perhaps it’d be better and safer to start more slowly (perhaps first running a mile) or trying a different exercise (i.e., cycling, hiking or swimming). 

DO use apps for motivation. Being we’re attached to our smartphones throughout the day, apps serve as great motivational tools when trying to stick to a workout regimen. Apps can even connect the user with others for added encouragement. 

DON’T let apps push you too far. Listen to your body over your app. If something’s not feeling right, it’s OK to skip today’s Couch to 5K workout. Through pain or discomfort, your body may be telling you to rest, or perhaps get checked out by a physical therapist or physician. 

DO use apps to help you explore new activities. Apps can certainly make you feel empowered, serving as motivation to try new things – new yoga poses, new core exercises, new activities like running or cycling, etc. But… 

DON’T forget to seek professional medical advice before starting something new. As with any new physical activity, it’s important to get assessed by a medical professional, such as a physical therapist, to ensure your body’s equipped to handle the rigors of said activity.  Be safe and injury-free when pursuing your goals.