How Long Until Exercise Helps to Ease Anxiety?

Your body makes it clear when you feel anxious – a racing heartbeat, becoming short of breath, tense muscles, feelings of restlessness and butterflies in your stomach. A chain of uncontrollable thoughts tends to follow that invade your mind such as excessive worry, having no control over your life, or a anticipation that something horrible is about to occur. The result is such that you become irritable, have an outburst of anger, become startled, or lose interest in things you enjoyed.

Solutions are hard to find during moments of anxiety. How can these symptoms be eased and controlled? You have probably heard the saying multiple times when a person becomes tense, angry or stressed, “Go hit and take it out on the bag.” They are not wrong. Exercise is a great form of adjunct treatment to lower anxiety levels in addition to medication and behavioral therapies. In this guide, we tackle:

  • How long it takes for exercise to lower anxiety
  • Which type of exercise routine is best to perform to best manage anxiety
  • How often exercise should be done during the week to best manage anxiety

No Response to Pharmacological Treatment

Primary forms of treatment for anxiety remain to be pharmacological and different versions of cognitive behavioral therapy. Although effective, barriers that are presented with pharmacological and behavioral therapy include:

  • 14 to 43 percent of people with anxiety disorders do not respond to treatment
  • 18 to 43 percent relapse within 6 months
  • Behavioral therapy can be lengthy and last up to 12 months
  • Resistance and low receptivity to initiate medication or behavioral therapies
  • Limited treatment options in remote geographical regions

Accessibility of exercise has become almost universal. Exercise routines can be completed in the home, gym, outdoors, or community – free of cost or at a price in which you feel comfortable paying out of pocket. Need some suggestions? Start at a level that feels most comfortable for you and progress from there. Jumping into an exercise routine that is above your level of fitness can be counter-productive such that it may in fact actually increase your anxiety levels rather than mediate it.

How Long Does it Take for Exercise to Help Decrease Anxiety? 

You’ve probably guessed it already, but there are several correct answers when it comes to the duration in which exercise takes its effects to ease anxiety levels. In brief, reductions in anxiety occur immediately following exercise. Understanding the FITT principle of exercise can help guide you to pick the best form of exercise to gain the most out of being able to reduce anxiety:

  • Frequency: Number of days per week exercise occurs.
  • Intensity: Based largely on your heart rate during exercise and how hard you are working. Ranges include low, moderate, and high intensity.
  • Type: Aerobic training, weightlifting, or meditative.
  • Time: Duration of your exercise sessions.

Depending on the type of exercise performed, either aerobic exercise, resistance training or yoga, you can expect immediate effects post-exercise. Let’s take a peek at what the research has to say:

  • Reductions in anxiety occur immediately and can take up to 120 minutes following aerobic exercise.
  • Long-term resistance training programs lasting 12 weeks either at high or low intensity showed decreased tension and anxiety symptoms compared to those that did not exercise.
  • Among adults, a 20-minute class combining tai chi movements and yoga postures showed large reductions in anxiety levels immediately after the class was completed.

Most forms of medications require up to 30 minutes before a person notices the effects taking place. Noticeable benefits of exercise for easing anxiety can be experienced immediately and after just a single bout of physical activity. Like a dose of medication, a lasting effect of exercise continues to persist up to 120 minutes for a person to experience peak relief from anxiety. A single bout of exercise has its benefits, but what about intensity, time and frequency? A team of researchers concluded that:

  • Programs lasting 16 weeks or longer produced the largest reductions in anxiety, and meaningful reductions in anxiety were found only in programs lasting 10 weeks or longer.
  • Exercise frequency of three to four times per week elicited the largest reductions in anxiety levels.
  • Exercise sessions lasting 21–30 minutes potentially provided the most anxiety reductions compared to short or longer durations.
  • Adults that participated in a 12-week yoga program (three 60 minutes sessions per week) compared with adults in a walking program demonstrated larger reductions in anxiety and reported feeling more tranquil and revitalized.
  • Moderate to high intensity exercise routines influenced the greatest reduction in anxiety symptoms when compared to low intensity.

Best Form of Exercise to Reduce Anxiety  

fitness group doing aerobic martial arts training outdoors

Beginning an exercise routine is not an easy task to initiate, especially if it wasn’t already part of your daily routine to begin with. Exercise can often be a solitary task. It’s typical for people that haven’t exercised before to feel self-conscious and ruminate irrational thoughts in their heads – exacerbating anxiety.

One of the best forms of exercise that has been largely supported by researchers include the incorporation of positive feedback during exercise. The type of feedback given during the exercise is crucial here. Negative feedback given during exercise in fact increased anxiety symptoms during and after exercise. Providing positive feedback during exercise performance showed large improvements of relief from anxiety. As an example:

  • A team of researchers compared the benefits of 45 minutes of people taking a martial arts class compared to 45 minutes of riding a stationary bicycle. The people that participated in the martial arts class had much larger decreases in anxiety levels in addition to having a much more positive mood and outlook.

Find the exercise routine that is right for you. An exercise group that fits your personality and level of motivation may drive your anxiety levels down more than a solitary exercise routine. If you find that interacting with others increases your anxiety levels, stick with an individual exercise routine. The best form of exercise is one that ultimately makes you personally feel less anxious.

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