Exercise Shown to Alleviate Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety Disorder

A new study from the Netherlands shows a direct link between exercise and anxiety disorder and depression. 


For most of our time on earth movement was required of humans. Building shelter, tending to crops, gathering, hunting, transporting water from the stream—sedentarism meant death, for if you weren’t willing to carry your load you would be left behind. The concept of ‘exercise’ did not exist. We have bodies and so we used them. 

The reasons for our sedentary present are numerous, but suffice it to stay that many modern humans would not survive the rigorous demands of physical activity if thrown back a few millennia. To counteract the slow-paced non-dynamic nature of office life ‘exercise’ became necessary. The fitness industry is one of the most booming economic drivers in our economy today. 

Yet still many do not move enough and that’s a problem. It’s not only our low back and physique that suffers when we don’t take care of ourselves. Our brain is starved as well, leading to a cascade of emotional and cognitive problems. 

As research continues to collect on just how important movement is to well-being, a new study conducted in Amsterdam shows a link between a lack of exercise and symtpoms of anxiety disorder and depression. The researchers looked at how three activities—sports participation, generally physical activity, and sedentary behavior—influence downcast and anxious attitudes. 

What the researchers term ‘sports’ is their way of expressing intentional exercise, whereas ‘general physical activity’ implies your daily movements at home and work and during leisure time. They separate this from sedentary behavior, which is reserved specifically for time spent sitting. For easier understanding I’ll refer to ‘sports participation’ as exercise moving forward. 

The researchers looked at six years of data from people suffering from depressive and anxiety symptoms to better understand the bi-directional relationship between exercise and emotional regulation. Much of the literature, they write, focuses on exercise’s role in depression and anxiety, though not if those mindsets influence exercise behavior. 

They also honed in specifically on how anxiety disorders is affected by exercise. I’ll interject briefly by stating that one way I dealt with panic attacks was by running (on a treadmill or outside) at the onset of an attack. Raising my heart rate allowed me to ‘outrace’ the physiological cascade of symptoms occurring during the attack. While my breathing rate was shortened in the beginning, within ten minutes I felt the effects of the attack subside. How one affects the other—chicken or egg—is an intriguing line of inquiry, however. 

Thus 2,981 adults with anxiety disorder and depressive disorders between the ages of eighteen and sixty-five, as well as healthy controls, from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA) were studied. Researchers controlled by removing those suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, psychosis, bipolar disorder, and severe addiction. Participants were measured at the two-, four-, and six-year mark following the initial study. Seventy-five percent of participants were retained at the six-year mark. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly researchers found what much of the previous literature suggests. People who suffer from anxiety disorders and depression exercise less, as well as move around during their daily activities less, than healthy controls. Interestingly, of the three activity levels, lack of exercise was associate with greater severity of symptoms and an increase of disorder onset. This led researchers to conclude, 

Over time, there seems to a mutually reinforcing, bidirectional relationship between psychopathology and lower physical activity, particularly low sports participation. People with anxiety are as adversely affected as those with depression.

We are mobile animals with plenty of joint articulation and a combination of slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers. The range of movements available to us are endless. In order to thrive we must practice diverse movement often. The consequences go beyond a bulging middle and poor posture. Cognitive and emotional health are inextricably linked to our biological requirements for cardiovascular activity, strength training, and flexibility. Anything less is denying what evolution designed our bodies to do, and not living up to that potential is a tragedy with terrible consequences.

--

Derek's next book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health, will be published on 7/17 by Carrel/Skyhorse Publishing. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
Videos
  • Bad outcomes get criticized as evidence of bad decisions, but that's not necessarily so.
  • Here, poker pro Annie Duke desribes a simple thought experiment that separates decisions from outcomes.
  • It is quite possible to make a very good decision that, due to external factors, results in a bad outcome.

Decide to Play Great Poker: A Strategy Guide to No-Limit Texas Hold '’Em

www.amazon.com

Decide to Play Great Poker: A Strategy Guide to No-Limit Texas Hold '’Em [Annie Duke, John Vorhaus] on Amazon.com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Ask the great poker players how they'd play a hand and the answer is always, It depends. That answer can be infuriating. But guess what? It really does depend. The key to becoming a great poker player is in knowing exactly what it depends on. At last there's a book that gives you that answer. Poker is a game of so many variables: table position

Should teachers be fired for nude pics from their past?

Lauren Miranda sent a nude selfie to a boyfriend years ago. Somehow one of her students discovered it.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Math teacher Lauren Miranda was fired from her Long Island school when a topless selfie surfaced.
  • Miranda had only shared the photo with her ex-boyfriend, who is also a teacher in the school district.
  • She's suing the school for $3 million as well as getting her job back, citing gender discrimination.
Keep reading Show less

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

Keep reading Show less