By Natasha Persaud

After a long day, you might plop down on a comfy chair in a quiet room and rest. Then, you turn on the TV, watch upsetting news coverage, and start feeling anxious again. Well, a new study suggests there is a better way to handle daily stressors: moderate-intensity exercise.

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In this study, released online ahead of print in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, cycling for 30 minutes outperformed sitting at rest in keeping college students calm. After resting or cycling, participants were asked to rate emotionally-charged pictures. Anxiety returned if the person had rested before the test, but it stayed at bay for up to an hour if the person had cycled.

Moderately intense exercise appears to offer short-term protection from stress, according to the researchers.

This isn’t the first study showing exercise reduces stress and improves mood. A large body of research has established the connection, including studies on exercise for depression and anxiety. This small study adds a new wrinkle, however, suggesting anxiety reductions from exercise persist longer than from sitting.

It’s important to note that participants in this study did not have diagnosed anxiety. The researchers suggest future studies should involve people with anxiety disorders.

 In the meantime, conduct your own experiment: Try these moderate-intensity exercises, and see if you experience greater calm:

Moderate Intensity Activities


  • Gardening for 30 to 45 minutes
  • Raking leaves for 30 minutes
  • Walking 2 miles in 30 minutes (15 min/mile)
  • Stair walking for 15 minutes

Sporting Activities

  • Bicycling 5 miles in 30 minutes
  • Dancing fast (social) for 30 minutes
  • Running 1.5 miles in 15 minutes (10 min/mile)
  • Jumping rope for 15 minutes
  • Playing touch football for 45 minutes
  • Basketball (shooting baskets) for 30 minutes
  • Water aerobics for 30 minutes
  • Swimming laps for 20 minutes


Smith, J. Carson. “Effects of Emotional Exposure on State Anxiety After Acute Exercise.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Published ahead of print August 2, 2012.

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 25 Sep 2012

Last Modified: 05 Mar 2015