Experiencing Stress and Anxiety? Get to the Gym with Intensity!

Research has long shown that engaging in any sort of physical activity (cardio/strength training) can be an effective drug-free way to improve mood, combat stress, and reduce anxiety. But, a new study now shows that high-intensity exercise may be superior over moderate exercise to help alleviate anxiety.

As you may guess, I am a huge proponent of weightlifting and also high intensity exercise, especially short, high-intensity training like CrossFit – it’s basically like my medicine.

How? Glad you asked.

Exercise is Like Medicine for My Mood

High-intensity and sprint interval training (SIT), like CrossFit workouts, fire up your fast twitch muscle fibers (you know, those quick burst, high-energy fibers that generally sit on the sidelines during endurance exercise). It also increases the amount of your mitochondria (very important energy converters), improves insulin sensitivity, and even trains your body to burn more fat for energy when you’re n̲o̲t̲ exercising.


Research also shows that it can also help increase lean muscle mass, improve your power and boost cardiovascular fitness.

New Study Shows Strenuous Exercise is Superior to Help Alleviate Anxiety

But check this out: new research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders suggests that strenuous exercise is superior over moderate exercise to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, even when the disorder is chronic. This is definitely something we all could use this time of year… who am I kidding – this is something we can use all year round!

The study was based on 286 adults who lived with anxiety for at least 10 years. Their average age was 39 and 70 percent of them were women. Researchers assigned them to one of three groups: A 12-week group exercise program with low-intensity exercise three times a week; a 12-week group exercise program with moderate to high intensity training three times a week, or a single session with a physiotherapist who provided information about the benefits of physical activity and the general exercise guidelines.

After the three-month trial, both exercise groups enjoyed a significant reduction in anxiety compared to the group who just learned about the benefits of exercise. Most of the participants in the exercise groups went from a baseline level of moderate to high anxiety to low anxiety by study’s end.

Go for High-Intensity Exercise to Help Anxiety

Those who did 𝗵𝗶𝗴𝗵-𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗻𝘀𝗶𝘁𝘆 𝗲𝘅𝗲𝗿𝗰𝗶𝘀𝗲 experienced even better results. The more intensely they exercised, the lower their anxiety. “There was a significant intensity trend for improvement — that is, the more intensely they exercised, the more their anxiety symptoms improved,” states the study’s first author.

We’re very excited about this new (2021) research that adds to the growing body of evidence showing that physical exercise can be a highly effective treatment for stress and anxiety.

Disclaimer: As always, consult with your primary care physician or a medical doctor before kickstarting any new workout regimen that includes high-intensity exercise — especially if you haven’t done moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in recent months.