The Exercise That is Best for Reducing Anxiety

While the focus of most exercise is on aerobic training these days, usually for weight loss, recent research has found that resistance training is beneficial in reducing anxiety (and likely the stress that normally accompanies it).

Aerobic exercise (also known as cardio) is physical exercise of low to high intensity that depends primarily on the aerobic energy-generating process. plus, a relative mountain of evidence shows that aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, running, cycling, or playing tennis, can help improve your mood, reduce your stress, and boost well-being.

Here are several heart and lung strengthening exercises:

  • Running.
  • Brisk walking.
  • Swimming.
  • Biking.
  • Working out on cardio equipment.
  • Aerobic classes or DVDs

While the mood-altering benefits of aerobic training are well known, the same has yet to be shown for resistance training; though the evidence is beginning to grow.

How Lifting Weights Can Elevate Your Mood

Resistance training increases muscle strength by making your muscles work against a weight or force. A beginner needs to train two or three times per week to gain the maximum benefit.

Resistance training (aka strength training or weight training) builds muscular strength and endurance by exercising a muscle or muscle group against external resistance. Buff arms and tight abs aren’t the only benefits of resistance training. There’s growing evidence that it may help you resist excessive worry and anxiety, too.

In the process, you might be doing your mental outlook a favor, too. “The research literature suggests that even single bouts of resistance exercise may produce moderate improvements in anxiety,” says Justin Strickland, M.S., a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky and lead author of a journal article reviewing this research. (

Different forms of resistance training include:

  • Free weights
  • Weight machines
  • Resistance bands
  • Your own body weight

Likewise, several small studies have found reductions in anxiety when resistance training is done regularly for six weeks or longer. That holds true across a range of study populations, including older adults, stroke survivors, and women with polycystic ovary syndrome.

One way resistance training might be beneficial is by promoting better sleep. A second way in which resistance training may be beneficial is by reducing anxiety sensitivity—fear of the physical sensations caused by anxiety.

So, while the physical benefits of exercise might not be enough to inspire to work out regularly, when you add the benefits of improving your moods and reducing anxiety, it may be time to hit the gym, after all.

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