Using physical exercise to manage anxiety

Anxiety arises when facing a stressful or dangerous situation and is often referred to as ‘Fight or Flight’. In ordinary circumstances the body will quickly call on its reserves to send adrenaline through the body to help cope with the situation one might find themselves in. Anxiety arises from the body over doing its response or generating adrenaline when the danger does not exist. 

According to NHS data, 1 in 6 people in England report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.

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Anxiety is a normal emotion and at times can actually be helpful to manage feelings. The good thing is that there are factors that can help people handle anxiety, a combination of therapy, medication and self help strategies. The key here is finding a balance where people can control their anxiety and not allowing anxieties to control them.

One key strategy of managing stress or anxiety is through regular exercise. Much has been written about the physical benefits of exercise and in particular for improving physical conditions and fighting disease. However, physical exercise is also brilliant at enhancing and maintaining mental fitness. Studies have proven that sport and exercise can reduce stress and while simultaneously minimising fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and enhancing overall cognitive function.

Sports or running can be especially helpful when stress has sapped your energy after a long day at the office or you’ve lost your ability to concentrate.

Anxiety and stress affect the brain, with its many nerve connections, to produce a knock on effect on the body. It makes perfect sense then that if your body feels better, so will your mind. 

Sports and other physical activities produce endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that work as a natural panacea. Being physically tired from exercise is also a fantastic way to improve sleep and that in turn keeps stress levels low.

Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been proven to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilise mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even as little as five minutes of aerobic exercise can help combat anxiety and stress effects.


Sports are also a wonderful way to build self-confidence to help fight off anxieties. Playing well and encouraging others in a team environment brings people closer together and provides a sense of achievement.

Having more belief in your own abilities means you will start to feel better about yourself, so get playing!

Will Chrimes is Head of Communication at Playfinder. For more information, go to playfinder.com.