Researchers at Princeton University have shown that exercise can help to diminish anxiety and promote calmness, both immediately and in the long term by promoting the creation of new excitable neurons in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in thinking and emotions. Newly formed ‘young’ neurons can be prone to easy excitement, making them quite efficient at reducing anxiety, something that physical exercise creates in abundance.
Exercise promotes calm by creating new neurons that release GABA.
A new animal study comparing running mice with sedentary mice found that while the exercising animals’ brains had many new excitable neurons, they also contained new neurons designed to release a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA inhibits excessive neuronal firing helping to induce a natural state of calm. Commonly prescribed anti-anxiety drugs like Ativan, Xanax and Valium actually exert a calming effect in this same manner, by boosting the action of GABA, but they often have unpleasant side effects.
Exercise appears to go one step further, however; when the mice were later exposed to a stressful situation, the study found that the exercising mice, as opposed to the sedentary mice, responded with only an initial rush of anxiety, followed by calm.
Treatment for depression.
Some psychologists use exercise as a primary form of treatment for depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. Research has shown again and again that patients who follow regular exercise regimens see improvement in their mood — improvements comparable to that of those treated with medication.
Many studies have shown that Yoga is one of the best methods of exercise in helping to reduce stress, tension and anxiety. A study was completed on a group of cancer survivors who took part in a 7 week Yoga program. The study found a decrease in their mood disturbances, stress symptoms, and an increase in their general quality of life.  Separate research also found that three months of regular yoga sessions resulted in less anxiety and depression, with anxiety scores falling from an average of 34 (on a scale of 20-80) to an average of 25.
In addition to the creation of new neurons, including those that release the calming neurotransmitter GABA, exercise boosts levels of potent brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which helps to buffer some of the effects of stress.
Best of all, these mood-boosting benefits are both immediate and long-term. The featured study found that exercising mice still responded with increased calm even when they hadn’t exercised for 24 hours.
The results really are impressive when you consider that exercise is virtually free and can provide you with numerous other health benefits too. Adding a regular exercise program to your life will keep you fit, enhance your mood, lessen anxiety and induce more feelings of calm in the future, too.
Source: How Exercise Can Calm Anxiety. www.Mercola.com
Schoenfeld. T.J et al. Physical exercise prevents stress-induced activation of granule neurons and enhances local inhibitory mechanisms in the dentate gyrus. J Neurosci.
2013 May 1;33(18)
Mackenzie, M.J et al. Affect and mindfulness as predictors of change in mood disturbance, stress symptoms, and quality of life in a community-based yoga program for cancer survivors. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med.