But the effects of physical activity extend beyond the short-term. Research shows that exercise can also help alleviate long-term depression.
Some of the evidence for that comes from broad, population-based correlation studies. "There's good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people. And people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program," says James Blumenthal, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Duke University.
Research has also looked at the ability of exercise to treat, or even prevent, anxiety associated with the “fight or flight” mechanism. When we are stressed or anxious, our nervous systems jump into action, setting off a cascade of reactions such as sweating, dizziness, and a racing heart. People with heightened sensitivity to anxiety respond to those sensations with fear" says Jasper Smits, PhD, Co-Director of the Anxiety Research and Treatment Program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and co-author, with Otto, of the 2011 book "Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-being."
Smits and Otto reasoned that regular workouts might help people prone to anxiety become less likely to panic when they experience those fight-or-flight sensations. After all, the body produces many of the same physical reactions — heavy perspiration, increased heart rate — in response to exercise. They tested their theory among 60 volunteers with heightened sensitivity to anxiety. Subjects who participated in a two-week exercise program showed significant improvements in anxiety sensitivity compared with a control group.
There are numerous aspects of a healthy, active lifestyle that will enhance mood, boost confidence and make you feel... well... better, but you are just improving an already great you.