When it feels like depression is crushing you or anxiety is making you want to crawl out of your skin, the last thing on your mind is exercise. But hitting the ground running is just the thing you need—and you’ll be doing more than just blowing off steam. An analysis by Harvard University researchers of more than 50,000 people found that stressed individuals who get regular physical activity have twice the protection against stroke and heart attack compared to less-stressed exercisers. Stress was identified as those dealing with anxiety and depression.
All exercisers were at 17 percent lower risk for heart attacks than non-exercisers, regardless of stress levels. But benefits were significantly higher in people with anxiety or depression, who had a 22 percent risk reduction vs. a 10 percent risk reduction in those without either condition.
Physical activity affects stress-related neural mechanisms in the brain that have a direct impact on heart health, explains researcher Hadil Zureigat, M.D., a postdoctoral clinical research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and the study’s lead author.
Aim for 150 minutes per week. That’s a 15-minute walk on your lunch break followed by 15 minutes of curls and crunches when you get home; a 30-minute daily bike commute to your office (bonus: save the environment); or three 50-minute spin classes a week.
Added perk: Exercise itself is a mood booster, helping to melt some of that anxious energy off.
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