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  1. #1
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    Exercise and anxiety

    I'm not sure if this belongs in the therapy section or not, admin please feel free to move it if required.

    OK since the beginning of the Covid19 crisis I've been hammering away at the exercise bike that had previously been gathering dust and spiders in the garden shed. Inspired to get fitter largely due to reading about the links between obesity and Covid prognosis, I've been at it on a regular basis. In fact as I type this, I'd say I'm probably fitter now than I have been in years. At least leg-wise and cardiovascular but I've yet to do much upper body work. I've started some this evening with a 12lb bottle of water. I've also lost significant weight from where I was this time 2 years ago, nudging 5 stones. The bulk of this loss has been over a longer period through regular walking, the more recent exercise bike has accelerated it. However in the last 2 weeks I've plateaued at 18st 3lb. This is despite keeping below the recommended 2154 calories per day that my app has put in place.

    So my first question would be how to break through this plateau. Would increasing the duration of exercise do it? Or intensity? I've read about more resistance exercise which made me think about the water bottle. Then again I read too that stress affects cortisol that restricts belly fat loss, and my anxiety has been up and running the last few weeks. Coincidence?

    Also does exercise have any therapeutic effect regarding anxiety? My own experience would suggest not, I feel much fitter but the anxiety is still very much there. Clearly though there are too many multiple dynamics involved to answer so simplistic a question.
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  2. #2
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    Re: Exercise and anxiety

    First of all, kudos for the weight loss. It ain't easy to change habits!

    The answer to this is multi faceted tbh and can be dependant to many things.

    In terms of exercise for weight loss, the first question would be what is the time and intensity you are putting into your bike work? There comes a point of limited return as your metabolism will adapt to your new output.

    In terms of diet, this isn't as simple as calories in/out either, for similar reasons. As you lose weight, you start to need less calories. It also depends on what you're eating and when. It's become common for the last few decades for the general advice to be to eat little and often, but more recently it's been found that this is a terrible idea, especially in terms of weight gain.

    Resistance training is one great way to boost fat burning simply because more muscle = more calories used, but in reality actual muscle building gets much harder as we get older so to build any real muscle will take big effort, and can result in an over stimulated CNS for anxiety suffers. It's not that it's a bad idea, it's just not worth relying on solely, rather as an addition to what you're already doing.

    Yes, cortisol will play a role in making it more difficult to lose weight, but it's not going to prevent it completely.

    Investigating the type of food you eat and the time you eat it is a good place to start I think.

  3. #3
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    Re: Exercise and anxiety

    I used to ride 10km every morning before work and felt great for the day but since my heart attack in 2015 my anxiety has stopped me from riding.
    I know you've had 2 FM.
    How do you find exercising after that?
    I had 1 stent.
    Thanks in advance.
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  4. #4
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    Re: Exercise and anxiety

    Cortisol may be an issue because studies have found it linked to 'trunk fat'. So you might find more around your face, pecs, abs, etc. But it's not a block on getting beyond there since many anxiety sufferers are in gym shape (some on here for a start).

    As Joe says, it's harder to build muscle as we are since our testosterone levels drop. However many men put on plenty in middle age. It will likely take longer since you don't have the hormone levels of a 20 year old. But that's about peak and you would get the same issue in your thirties but just to a lesser extent.

    Are you considering adding weight as a cardio thing? If so you getting into something similar to kettlebell training which makes you stronger as well as fitter. Unlike aiming for strength, or optimum muscle building, you aren't doing a heavy workout aimed at something like gains in size or power. They can be great for weight loss too since not only do you gain more muscle to burn more calories but your body has to respond to the stress to build them which takes a lot of calories.

    So if you are going more for a strength plus cardio approach you won't get the big gains but what you will do is force your body to increase what it is using. That will mean burning more calories and also after you stop as some muscle building action will be taking place. Cardio is more about burning whilst exercising, adding weight increases the need to build more muscle to cope with the increased demand.

    With the bike why not consider HIIT training? It's as basic as sprint then peddle moderately then repeat. The sprint is shorter. This method of training emerged from the training performed by athletes who compete in sprints. But you can do it all sorts of ways since you just increase the effort, reduce, repeat. It's much more intensive than stopping to rest between sprints and the moderate 'rest' keeps the body working.

    If you were weight training you can do things like HIIT but basing it around the weight. But in weight training there are other ways to keep the pressure on e.g. supersets, volume training, etc.

    Cortisol is weight training can be a problem if you do more than 60 minutes. It spikes at this point. But I think this one is complicated with us as our baselines and peaks are possibly higher or worse. You are going to know if you overdo it but given your current level of exercise you have a good base to work from.

    As for whether it helps I think this is also complicated & individual. It can, the science says so. But what if like me you struggle with physical sensations, had some of your memorable panics as a result of workouts and struggle with the natural aches & pains of exercise? This is where I think you treat it like any other fear and you exposure yourself to gain confidence. You'll learn it can't hurt you but like any exposure work it can be a mix of "yes, I can do It!" and "oh no, now I feel bad, what is this, will it happen again?"

    Then there is the question of whether it helps your anxiety disorder decrease. The science is positive and you will only add to your confidence and self worth through it. Looking at it as a cure though is less positive although it's always a possibility. But you aren't doing this so anyway so you will only gain in the positives.

    So, does exercise cause issues with your anxiety? My therapist had me doing sprints and watching my body until I learned it wasn't going to kill me just because my breathing increased. Surprisingly I learnt it quite quickly.

    You have done really well so far. That's a lot of weight to lose. Also don't forget that whilst you may be carrying extra weight your cardiovascular system can be healthier than someone who is slim yet gets little exercise. Your lung capacity will have increased. Plus you will have hardened your body to stress in general which is a very good thing.

    Have you also looked at what you are eating? I know we all talked about this on another thread. If you can sub some less healthy stuff for more protein to keep you full longer or replace some sugar it will only be helpful.

    It is frustrating. Since being diagnosed with hypertension I've lost about 15-20 pounds whilst gaining at least a stone in muscle. The muscle didn't come quick bit in over a year I am much bigger everywhere. I really need to get back into weight training but, and you're a gardener so you will fully understand this, I've done a lot of manual labouring for my dad. Anything he's needed doing, I've done. I've also done it the hard way and removed most work with machines. Many times he's asked why do it the long way and I've said it's good exercise for me.

    So, I've done plenty of heavy lifting of tubs of soil (want to make it much heavier? Fill it with water instead), been doing lots of digging, plenty of sawing and carrying wood/rubble/rocks. To help out someone I know with a coal fire during lockdown I got myself along one of the A roads collecting, lugging and sawing up a few of 40lb sacks at a time then carrying them home half a mile.

    That's all working for me along with a good amount of protein. I've found spreading that over the day in smaller batches works best for me rather than large amounts in fewer hits.

    I've knocked off over 3 inches around the waist and added some inches around each of my chest (2), arms (1.5) and legs (3). Still a way to go but I'm in a plateau too so it's more cardio and proper weight training for me from here.
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  5. #5
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    Re: Exercise and anxiety

    The bit that gets me is when I had the attack I broke out in a severe sweat.
    Ever since sweating freaks me.
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  6. #6
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    Re: Exercise and anxiety

    Hi folks, I've been meaning to respond to your very helpful posts but life has got in the way in the form of car trouble. Happily I can say its all resolved now, the exhaust was blocked with all sorts of debris, causing fumes to back-up into the engine and leading to performance issues. I really hate car repair shops with their macho atmospheres where I feel it vitally important to hide any suspicion they may have that I'm 'odd'.

    Anyway, Phill I think you're getting me mixed up with fishmanpa. I've no heart issues that I'm aware of though that can change of course. Joe and Terry, your answers are comprehensive and I might well print them out, and thank you both for your kind words. I'm 6ft 3 and quite big boned so can probably get away with carrying some weight, at least to a degree but being 23st or so I just had to take action. But yes anxiety can be triggered when I exercise, I suppose its stimulation of any kind that feels the same but has its origins elsewhere. An example is jelly legs after riding the exercise bike, however this has disappeared in the last month or so and can only put it down to increased leg muscle. That said I still exercise when I think we have nobody calling, with the lockdown and restricted visiting that's proven helpful.

    Joe, I time myself at a minimum of 20 minutes on the bike though its normally higher and up to 30 mins. I start with a low setting on the resistance dial and then gradually increase until I'm pedalling up what feels like a steep hill. When I started in March I couldn't even move the pedals on the highest setting, now I can manage it quite well and don't get the jelly legs. This I do every other day, I did buy a bike in April but found it a less intensive ride.

    I'm using a calorie counting app called Nutracheck. You just enter whatever you eat and it gives you the calorie content. The app does all the maths and tells you what you have left in a 24 hour period. I start the day with porridge, then lunch is normally fruit (apple, orange, banana). Dinner is normally no-added sugar baked beans on two slices of toast (wholemeal) and probably a tin of tuna. Then in the evening have a bag of mixed salad especially rocket, spinach and watercress. Sometimes mixed nuts and more fruit.
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  7. #7
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    Re: Exercise and anxiety

    Thanks for the reply.
    I did have you mixed up FMP
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  8. #8
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    Re: Exercise and anxiety

    Quote Originally Posted by fishman65 View Post

    I'm using a calorie counting app called Nutracheck. You just enter whatever you eat and it gives you the calorie content. The app does all the maths and tells you what you have left in a 24 hour period. I start the day with porridge, then lunch is normally fruit (apple, orange, banana). Dinner is normally no-added sugar baked beans on two slices of toast (wholemeal) and probably a tin of tuna. Then in the evening have a bag of mixed salad especially rocket, spinach and watercress. Sometimes mixed nuts and more fruit.
    What's your eating window? When do you start eating in the day, and when do you stop?

  9. #9
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    Re: Exercise and anxiety

    I've been exercising in some shape or form since my teens, but the past 3 I've had a weight bench, olympic bar, and free weights in my kitchen. I use it daily (almost). I've had anxiety before, during, and after. Regardless of whether I'm running 5k, or lifting heavy weights. If it's a bad day for anxiety, then that's just it. I don't think the exercise contributes to anxiety because I tend to think anxiety is a mental thing as opposed to an imaginary fear of doom.

    The worst anxiety attack I had was on the way back from cycling 30 miles. I got to my destination and had nothing but a banana in my bag and left my wallet at home. I was so hungry. My water ran out and it was baking hot. The entire ride back alone was hell. When I got home I just collapsed on the bed, drank a lot of water, and had a 5 hour panic attack wondering why my heart is still pounding. 3 days later I did the same again, but was better prepared with food.

    Many with exercise related anxiety have a health fear of some kind that triggers. Mine is having a heart attack. When we exercise the heart rate increases, we sweat, we get out of breath. All are symptoms of a something disastrous, so for long time panic sufferers I think we tend to subconsciously link those triggers.

    It's hard to push through anxiety during exercise. But the exercise is fantastic for you and keep going with it regardless of the anxiety.

    I don't count calories. I don't watch what I eat. I eat when hungry and eat what I like, and fast once a week. I've got very little fat on me now and a great physique. It's taken me 3 years of daily workouts to get this far. I do short explosive workouts all throughout the day. 1 workout will take about 15 minutes, and I do that 6 to 8 times. I'm mostly a hermit so I make up my daily exercise that way. I do go for walks with my camera though so I'm not entirely sat in the house; I just spend more time in it than most.

    I treat exercise as just something I do every day; like pooping, peeing or making a cup of tea ... if I don't do it I'm bone idle. And I'm not that. But I sit at a computer most of day. Stereotypical programmers are overweight. I've managed to avoid that and have been conscious of it all my life.

    I wasn't always like this. 4 years ago I was 16 stone, had bad acne, drank a lot, oily skin, blah blah. Quitting the alcohol and eating only when I'm hungry has served me well. The fasting is the icing on the cake.

    Jumping rope is cool too, but if I'm focusing on building muscle I lessen the cardio. Cardio is great for the cardiovascular system, but believe it or not so is lifting weight. It's just got a bad rap because body builders go silly with steroids and end up having heart attacks very young.
    Last edited by WiredIncorrectly; 01-08-20 at 20:41.
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  10. #10
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    Re: Exercise and anxiety

    Quote Originally Posted by ankietyjoe View Post
    What's your eating window? When do you start eating in the day, and when do you stop?
    OK Joe, porridge I have for breakfast, 100 grams with milk, no sugar. That's normally 8 or so in the morning. The lunch is, well lunchtime? Dinner is 6ish and any calories I have left over I can use up or let go. But I've cut out all food in between, that's where I was going wrong. Today we had a Chinese takeaway that has blown the calories into orbit so will start again tomorrow.

    The big challenge is keeping to this when life gets rough and with a wife who has so many ailments, the rough outweighs the smooth. Wired, you've done brilliantly, well done on sticking with it. I do agree that exercise has a limited benefit as regards mental health. If there is some, its directly after vigorous exercise with me, but temporary. If there is some external factor causing anxiety then that hasn't magically vanished because I've worked out.
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