Midlife anxiety is something that affects many of us in the perimenopause years. And for most of us, it’s a surprise symptom. But it’s one of the most common perimenopause symptoms, and regular exercise will help. So, we want to know, what is the best exercise for anxiety?
READ MORE What causes menopause anxiety?
It goes without saying that the best exercise for you is something that you enjoy, and that you’ll keep on doing on a regular basis. If your knees hate running (yep!), then don’t even think about it. The great thing about picking the best exercise for anxiety that will suit you, is that there is so much choice, as our expert tips below show. The most important thing is to do something – often! Let’s get moving.
Multiple studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise helps to prevent anxiety and manage stress. “The release of endorphins that a run provides can set you up for the rest of the day,” says GB pentathlete Suzie Cave. “It also helps to regulate your sleep cycle, which has a positive impact on symptoms of anxiety.
“If you’re a beginner, start off easy. Little and often is the key to getting started. Try to build up to five 30-minute sessions a week, and invest in a good pair of trainers. Appropriate footwear is your key to keeping running and stopping little niggles from raising their ugly head.”
We’re big yoga fans here at MPowered. For us, it’s one of our favourites when it comes to the best exercise for anxiety.
When practicing yoga you become more mindful of your body and slow down your breath, which shifts your focus away from anxious thoughts. “Unlike many types of exercise, yoga activates both the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS),” says Chatty Dobson, owner of FLEX Chelsea.
“Strong flows like vinyasa and ashtanga build energy within the body, engaging the SNS. In contrast, restorative yoga, meditation and other breath work techniques encourage our rest and digest mode, with the PNS. Research has shown that when the PNS activation swiftly follows SNS activity, deep relaxation follows.”
Along with yoga, working out with weights is our other top choice for the best exercise for anxiety. Studies have shown that strength and resistance training reduces stress and the symptoms of anxiety. So using dumbbells, resistance bands, medicine balls or even the weight of your own body not only builds muscular strength and endurance, it can do wonders for your mental health, too.
“It’s about the feeling you get when you strength train and pick up weights,” says creator of The Power Method, Kehinde Anjorin, @powerinmovement. “You feel powerful, which transcends your workout and sets the tone for your day.“
“One of the main principles of Pilates is the breath,” says instructor Jo-Leigh Morris. “When anxiety is triggered, the breath can become fast and shallow. You may feel tight chested and this can be the cause of panic attacks, putting further stress on the body.
“Pilates is connecting the mind to the body, centreing yourself and using deep breathing to increase the movements. It isolates specific muscle groups, bringing body awareness, precision, concentration and a distraction from our negative thoughts.”
Formerly considered a workout reserved for heavyweights, female boxing has been having something of a moment over the last few years. “Boxing requires you to fully concentrate on the task at hand,” says BXR London coach Tanya Morgan. “To box well, you need to be able to switch off from the outside world and be 100% focused. It’s fast, furious and above all fun, leaving little room in your head for anything else.
“Being able to avert daily stresses can help you to truly take time out, giving you a fresh perspective to better deal with problems, or things that are bothering you.”
When motivation is running low, encourage a friend to join you in your workout or try a team sport. “New research finds that group exercise may be even better for your mental wellbeing than a solo sweat session,” says Personal Trainer Dan Lambert. “A study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that people who took group exercise classes reported less stress and more mental health benefits than those who exercised alone. A social atmosphere may compound the already numerous benefits of physical activity.”
If running isn’t your thing, cycling is another aerobic exercise that can ease symptoms of anxiety. You might not fancy heading to a spin class just yet, and the idea of cycling outside during the winter months can be equally unattractive, so try investing in an exercise bike you can use from the comfort of your own home.
“Everything we go through on the Peloton bike we go through at some point in real life,” says Peloton instructor Ally Love, @allymisslove. “It’s challenging, but we learn to overcome it on the bike so we know how to apply the exact same principles throughout life, even though the situations vary.”
Tai Chi is a series of slow, graceful, controlled body movements. It has a multitude of health benefits, from building muscle tone to preventing osteoporosis and reducing stress. ‘It’s a soft martial art that includes fluid movements along with core control,” says PT Dan Roberts. “Posture, breathing and visualisation technique make this feel different to a normal workout, and it’s wonderful for helping you to de-stress, feel rooted in your body and remember that not all exercise is about intensity or calorie burn.”
“Kettlebell swings are an easy move to release positive endorphins and neurotransmitters, which can keep anxiety at bay,” says Ross Mitchell, PT at Future Fit Training. “After 15 minutes you’ll benefit from heightened mental focus, a flood of positive hormones and feel strong through your posterior chain. As an added benefit, they’re excellent for improving your posture after long hours of sitting down at work.”
To perform one correctly, keep your feet shoulder-width apart and bending your knees slightly, hold your kettlebell and pull it back between your legs. Then drive your hips forwards and straighten your back to send it up to shoulder height. Stand tall with your glutes pinched tight at the top, then bring it back between your legs. Repeat for one minute, followed by one minute of rest.
GETTING OUT IN NATURE
Whether you’re taking a walk in your nearest green space or playing sports on an outdoor court, simply getting outside can have a positive impact on your mental health. Nature really is the best exercise for anxiety.
“I play netball surrounded by greenery, which is particularly beneficial when you live in a city like me,” says Stephanie Wood, editor of Fit and Well. “A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that higher levels of exposure to green spaces contributed to lower levels of symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. After a day spent at my desk, the good dose of fresh air I get by throwing myself around the netball court helps clear my head and makes me sleep better, too.”