HomeexerciseExercise- A Natural Treatment For Anxiety & Depression

Exercise- A Natural Treatment For Anxiety & Depression

Exercise- A Natural Treatment For Anxiety & Depression


With the current situation with COVID-19, most of us find ourselves stressed not only by the fear of us and our loved ones contracting the virus, but also because of the uncertainty that quarantines and changes in income streams can bring. We can’t always change our external circumstances, but we can do something to help us deal with the anxiety and depression that a global pandemic can bring. I wrote this piece in 2013 and here it is in updated form and I hope you find it to be of some use and consolation. Keep training and stay safe out there.    -Kevin Richardson



Stress is an integral part of our existence and plays a crucial role in our development as individuals. While typically thought of as a negative aspect of life that needs to be reduced as much as possible, the reality is that stress is a key factor in both the physical and mental development of all sentient beings. In a sense, who you are as a person is little more than a reflection of how well or how poorly you adapt to the stressors encountered in your daily life. Adaptations are by definition, developed traits that help us minimize stress, and one of the main points of evolutionary biology is the idea that we as a species that has spent hundreds of thousands of generations hunting and gathering and then later living an agriculture centered existence, have not had adequate time to fully adapt to the stress imposed by modern life. While those of us in developed parts of the world are no longer threatened in by the constant possibility of starvation, physical assault, communicable disease, injury and predation from wild animals, the stress we endure as a result of modern life is just as real, and our bodies cannot differentiate between the stress of a dispute with a loved one, problems at work and financial problems with the life-threatening stress of imminent danger. Worrying about work, relationships, social status and finances triggers the same “fight or flight” response that once helped us avoid being eaten by wild animals and fight for survival. Unfortunately, many of us today find ourselves locked in a loop of constant worry and anxiety. Thus, it should be no surprise that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population.[5] Interestingly enough, several studies have demonstrated the ability of exercise to improve mood and reduce anxiety in healthy adults.[1,2,3,4] So much so that just one bout of exercise appears to bring about the same degree of anxiety relief as quiet meditation.[11, 12,13] In this article we will take a look at exactly how effective exercise is as an anxiety reducing tool and also explore our possible evolutionary link to exercise as a way of dealing with stress and maintaining mental balance in the face of seemingly overwhelming stressors. The findings are compelling to say the least and I invite you to share this article with anyone whom you think would find it to be of interest.


Exercise and Stress & Anxiety Relief- Our Innate Need For Transcendental Experiences


exercise as a natural tool against depression
As humans we seek out experiences that help us step outside of the repetition of everyday life and exercise is one of the healthiest ways to do so.


As human beings we are very much constituted to seek out experiences that allow us to transcend the mundane, stressful and often repetitive aspects of our daily life. Be it religion, music, sex, art, drugs or exercise, we are in a way coded to seek out activities that bring about different forms of consciousness. Exercise for many, is a simple and positive way to step outside of the norms of our daily lives with an activity that changes our state of mind. The Greek word ‘ekstasis’, from which the word ecstasy is derived, translates as ‘venturing outside of what is the norm’ and is a perfect description of what an intense bout of exercise can be. A hard workout can touch us deeply by lifting us momentarily above and beyond our regular way of being. An experience that many describe as ‘feeling truly alive’ and one that allows us to transcend conventional ways of looking at ourselves. While intense exercise can very often be painful, the effects of exercise seem to take us to a place that transcends pain. Offering us a vantage point from which we can see the world somewhat more objectively and where the difficulties and sufferings of our everyday existence become a bit more bearable. (See my article Bodybuilding As A Spiritual Practice)

This notion of exercise as a tool that can be used for temporary stress relief is one that anyone who has ever seriously exerted themselves may find to be self-evident. However, questions still remain about how much of a difference does that transformative experience from a tough day at the gym translates into concretely helping us deal with real life situations encountered after the fact. Unfortunately, we have to contend with the limitations offered by studies on the subject, as they can only at best approximate situations that may be stressful but cannot for example, examine in a controlled environment how exercise helps us deal with the stress of a difficult day at work or a situation induced panic attack. That said, we do have some evidence that exercise may a key role in anxiety reduction long after the activity itself has ceased, and that its effects are far more profound and long lasting than non-physical means of dealing with anxiety.


Exercise & Anxiety Relief- The Long Lasting Anxiety Reducing Effects

exercise affects brain neurology to prevent depression and anxiety
One of the findings of neurology is that the systems responsible for our emotions are very much connected with those responsible for motor and muscular activity.


One of the amazing discoveries of modern neurology is that the physiological and neurological systems governing our emotional responses are considerably intertwined with the systems controlling our muscles and motor behaviors.[14] So much so that exposure to emotion producing images has been documented as bringing about the same neurological changes that occur during exercise, [15] thus, it is no surprise that exercise has an effect on our anxiety levels. One experiment meant to document the effects of acute exercise on anxiety used arousing pictures from the International Affective Picture System, a series of images that have been shown to induce a shift in mood and affect baseline anxiety levels.[16] Subjects were made to exercise at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes after which they were shown 90 pictures from the IAPS system, several of which were rated as being highly unpleasant. Researchers found that baseline anxiety levels were reduced in all subjects immediately after the bout of exercise, (which to be honest, is not that much of a surprise), but what was interesting was the finding that anxiety levels remained lowered even after viewing the emotionally charged images.[14] As a control, another group was made to spend 30 minutes in what was described as quiet rest time- which also lowered state anxiety levels to a degree similar to the reduction in anxiety due to exercise. The difference however, was that anxiety levels increased after viewing the arousing IAPS images in the quiet rest group unlike the exercising group where anxiety levels remained lowered.[14] What this simple study highlights, is perhaps the most important and practical aspect of stress reduction and that is the idea of resilience.


Exercise and Stress & Anxiety Relief- A Natural Form of Cultivating Resilience


Exercise performed at certain intensities appear to enhance our resilience to the cumulative effects of emotionally disturbing stimuli. While this experiment was, as we noted earlier, somewhat removed from reality, it nevertheless highlights the fact that exercise may play a significant role in our ability to deal with stress in real world settings. From an evolutionary point of view, it makes perfect sense that physical activity would grant some measure of stress protection given the degree of anxiety that we had to endure for the earlier part of our species’ existence on the planet. Long before the relative comfort and safety of modern life, survival was a never ending concern and activity levels were considerably higher that what it is today.[17] Changes in our response to stressful stimuli due to physical activity could have thus been one of the ways that our ancestors were able to cope with the stress of having to persevere in environments where famine, conflict and threats from nature itself were constant. See also How Muscles Aid In Survival 


Exercise-Stress & Anxiety Relief- An Evolutionary Argument


hunter gatherers lower rates of depression due to activity
Modern hunter gatherers have far higher activity levels than the average person living in a Westernized environment- activity levels that may be an evolutionary requirement for optimal mental health.


All organisms develop with species-specific capabilities, limitations and requirements as a result of the environment in which they inhabit, and for us, our ancestors lived a predominantly hunter gatherer existence for the better part of our 2 million years on the planet. The shift towards agriculture occurred a mere 10,000 years ago and ushered in an age of changing (and often times harder) physical requirements to stay alive and maintain a steady supply of food. This shift represents but a blip in the face of the millions of years that we were mostly hunter-gatherers, during which time our fight or flight response was very much employed on a regular basis in order to stay alive.[17]

Given that our genetic constitution has changed little in the face of enormous recent changes in our environment,[18] it could be that the higher levels of physical activity required to stay alive served to keep our mental health in balance in the face of the most potentially anxiety producing situations. We are several hundred thousand years removed from those times, but if we evolved for all those years to have exercise as a requirement for optimal mental health, it is perfectly understandable that there would be higher incidences of depression and heightened anxiety levels in populations that are relatively sedentary.[19,20] It would also explain to some degree the improved mental health among those who engage in some form of regular physical exercise or activity. Several studies have shown that changes in the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis seem to have a connection with anxiety related disorders. Anxiety usually occurs concurrently with activation of our ‘fight or flight response’ resulting in hypervigilance, fear and sympathetic dysregulation. [21] Traits that would have been invaluable to us to be able to hunt, fight and survive the rigors of our world several thousand years ago and it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that we would have a built in way to not be consumed and destroyed by these very much needed attributes. Exercise and physical activity, thus, seem to be a natural method by which we were able to do just that, as some forms of exercise appear to regulate cortisol levels and thus reducing anxiety at the level of the HPA axis.[22, 23]


Exercise & Anxiety Relief- Less Exercise Equals More Stress
exercise natural relief from anxiety of modern life
We may not need the fight or flight response the way we did thousands of years ago but the stress of modern life can trigger it nonetheless



We may no longer need regular adrenal surges to deal with possible threats to our survival in the relative comfort of a Westernized 21st Century environment, but we are genetically the same as we were during the Pleistocene Period when we did. As a result, our bio-neurological systems have the same reactions today to the stresses of work and social life as we did in our ancestral environment, but without the balm of regular physical exercise to attenuate it.

With the exception of human beings, all other mammals have to work in order to procure food, however the technological advances in food cultivation and distribution have made it such that in affluent nations there is no direct link between physical activity and the food we eat.[17] Technology and mechanization have dramatically reduced work related physical exertion for most who live in developed countries and has also made recreational pursuits far more sedentary in nature. Exercise and physical exertion are today extraordinary activities that occur separately and apart from the daily lives of most of the population in developed countries.

Given the fact that activity levels in developed countries are far below the level of physical exertion for which our genetically determined physiology, neurobiology and bio-chemistry have been programmed for through evolution [17] it is not surprising that 22% of Americans over the age of 13 suffer from an anxiety related disorder in any given year and that 16% of Americans will suffer from a depressive disorder during the course of their lifetime.[19, 24] These mental health issues occur in conjunction with increased body weight, reduced muscle mass, disproportionate amounts of fat tissue relative to bone and muscle, [17,25,26] and of course epidemic levels of cardiovascular and metabolic related diseases- the number one cause of death in developed nations.[27]

Assuming that today’s hunter gatherer tribes such as the !Kung and Ache have activity levels close or equal to that of our Stone Age ancestors, researchers estimate that the energy expenditure per unit mass for the average contemporary Westerner is as much as 38% less than of today’s hunter gatherers.[17] Putting that into perspective, to match the energy expenditure of a hunter gatherer a 150lb male Westerner would have to add 72 kilocalories/kg per days’ worth of activity which works out to be an additional 12 mile walk every day performed in conjunction with their normal activities.[17] Exercise requirements that fall far below current standard guidelines put forward by the ACSM which are about 44 % lower than activity levels observed among modern foraging humans. [17,28, 29]


Exercise and Stress & Anxiety Relief- The Benefits of Resistance Training
exercise and weight training stops depression
Fitness star and Naturally Intense personal trainer Erika Citrin knows the mood elevating effects of weight training!


With today’s world of hectic schedules that abbreviate our time for family, social and recreational activities, it is impractical to expect the average citizen to increase their activity levels to that of our foraging ancestors. However, as demanding as the daily activities of a hunter gatherer may be, it lacks the efficiency of physical exercise protocols available to us today such as high intensity type training. A form of training that makes it possible for us to attain similar physiological and neurological effects within the framework of a much lower time expenditure.[29] Weight training, for example is not an activity that would have been performed during our formative years as a species, but in addition to its benefits of increasing muscle mass, strength, bone density and endurance it also appears to decrease anxiety across age groups by directly affecting cortisol levels and altering the HPA axis. [22, 23] Studies have also found that resistance exercise may enhance the anxiety relieving effects of other modes of exercise such as aerobics among individuals suffering from severe anxiety.[30] Research found that aerobic exercise alone had little effect in lowering anxiety levels among individuals with primary anxiety symptoms, but had a robust effect on lowering anxiety when paired with resistance training. [31]

Reduction in anxiety has been found from engaging in low intensity resistance training at intensities as low as 10% of one repetition maximum and what’s most important is that the anxiety relieving effects last well beyond the duration of the activity. Although far more research is needed, there is a consensus that resistance training is an effective form of treatment for individuals suffering from anxiety as a primary and secondary symptom [30] and there is a considerable amount of research that find positive outcomes in cognition and mental health from aerobic exercise. Which appears to improve mood through changes in brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and monoamine neurotransmitters [32, 33, 34, 35] a different pathway than the exercise induced changes to cortisol and HPA axis brought on by resistance training.[30] Studies verify the fact that physical inactivity increases both the likelihood and duration of depression and that physical activity significantly reduces the risk of developing a depressive disorder. Furthermore, research has shown that the anti-depressant effects of both resistance and aerobic forms of exercise are comparable to that of psychotherapy and the use of pharmaceutical drugs.[8,9,10]


Far more research is needed for us to understand exactly how different forms of exercise affect us in terms of our mental states, but what is clear is that exercise is an important component of our mental health as a species. A component that needs to be embraced not only by the medical community as a prescribed form of treatment for depressive and anxiety related disorders, but by the general public at large as a natural and relatively safe method of dealing with the stress of everyday life. Our response to physical activity can be seen in many ways as one of nature’s gifts to us as a species. A defense mechanism of sorts to help give us hope and stability in the face of countless wars, famines and the harsh, brief lives we lived during the earlier part of our existence as a species. One that you should most certainly take advantage of on a regular basis if you have any desire to be truly healthy in mind and body.


High Intensity Bodyweight Training: Ballistic Pushups & Dips!

This was a tough one!

Starts out with ballistic push ups (like clap pushups but without the clap as my wrist is still not 100%) nonstop for 20 reps, then all out on dips for 10 reps.

To say it was painful would be an understatement, but you just have to push through and keep on going.

Still training, hope you are too and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#hometraining #homeworkout #homeworkout #highintensitytraining #naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuilding #fitover40 #naturalbodybuildingvideos #chestday #chesttraining #naturalbodybuildingtips #pushups #dips #bodyweighttraining #highintensitytrainingtips #drugfreebodybuilding #calesthenics

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Kevin's Unconventional Biceps Training- 3-6 Minutes a Week!

In this video I go over my biceps training using the Naturally Intense High Intensity Training protocols that helped me go from having arms measuring 11.5 to 12 inches to 18 inches drug free!

It's an unconventional approach for certain, but it's one that's helped my arms grow and the hundreds of men and women I have trained over the past 30 plus years.

Now, my success isn't due to being genetically gifted, as it took me the better part of 11 years to get my arms up to those measurements.

Which is significant as it works and been been proven time and time again to work for the average man or woman trying to grow their arms without drugs.

It's my hope that these high intensity training protocols can help you as much as they helped me!

Click on my bio link to see the full video on my YouTube channel and thanks as always for taking the time to look at my work!!! Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#highintensitytraining #naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuilding #fitover40 #naturalbodybuildingvideos #armworkout #bicepsworkout #naturalbodybuildingtips #biceps #armtraining #highintensitytrainingtips #drugfreebodybuilding #barbellcurls

55 8

At the Lancaster Classic Day 2 Elimination Rounds Against European Champion, and World Record Holder Leo Pettersen @leo_barebow_archer

I don't talk much about it but I'm also a competitive barebow archer (surprise!) and last Saturday I had the honor of making it to Day 2 at the Lancaster Archery Classic in the Barebow Division, as I made the top 64 out of 267 competitors and had a chance to shoot with some of the greatest barebow shooters on the planet!

I didn't make it past Leo, but it was a real rush to be there and a huge thanks to my coach, Joe MyGlyn @prolinearchery for helping me get there.

Thanks as well to my good friend @sean_chan33 for all of his help from the very start, to my line buddy Aaron Shea for taking the shot and showing up to support!

My thanks as well to rob_kaufhold for putting on and promoting one of the best archery tournaments on earth!

Thanks also to to everyone who took the time to send a supporting word and I am looking forward to next year!!! #naturallyintense #barebow

#lancasterclassic #lancasterarcheryclassic2024 #lancasterarchery #archery #fitover40 #barebowrecurve #targetarchery

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Dumbo, Brooklyn circa 2004

This shot was taken as part of the promotion for my Naturally Intense DVD and was about a year after my last bodybuilding competition.

It was a grueling photoshoot.

We started at about 10 am and finished around 4pm and I was completely spent, but the more we shot the sharper I looked, so we kept on going.

It's nice to look back from time to time and as tired as I was, we all had a blast!

My thanks to @stephanie_corne_artwork, @https://pulse.ly/itgnag2dec and @ftaz1 for taking the shots!!!

Thanks for watching and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuilding #throwback #fifthavenuegym #5thavenuegym #drugfreebodybuilding #naturalbodybuildinglifestyle #gymlife #gymmotivation #naturalbodybuildingmotivation #bodybuilding #blackandwhite #instablackandwhite #bnw

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Can You Build An Impressive Physique Training Only At Home?


I stopped training in commercial gyms as of March 2020 and have been training at home ever since.

Initially I was admittedly worried that I might lose some of my gains or not make as much progress, but that certainly wasn't the case.

I've consistently continued to improve with my high intensity workouts and muscles have no idea where they are training.

As long as the criteria of adequate intensity and overload are met, there will be an adaptive response and your muscles will get bigger and stronger.

So don't worry at all about where you train, focus instead of what will be the best way for you to always be training!

Thanks for watching and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

97 3

Kevin's Three Day Training Spilt!

For the past 33 years I have trained three times a week with Naturally Intense High Intensity Training workouts lasting 10, 15 to 20 minutes max.

It's a training split tried and testes not only in it's helping me realize my goal of becoming a successful natural bodybuilder, but it's also helped hundreds of men and women over the past three decades.

I have tested just about every possible training split imaginable and for this particular style of high intensity training, this particular grouping consistently yields fantastic results.

I hope it helps you as much as it's helped me over the years and thanks so much for taking the time to look at my work.

Keep training hard and Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#trainingsplit #3daytrainingsplit #threedaytrainingsplit #naturalbodybuilding #naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuildingvideo #naturalbodybuildingmotivation #naturalbodybuildingtips #drugfreebodybuilding #bodybuilding #highintensitytraining #highintensitytrainingtips

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405 Stiff Leg Deadlift for 7 Reps! High Intensity Training.

First leg workout of the year and already pushing it!

I haven't done a stiff leg deadlift over 315lbs for about 3 years at this point, and I did my last set with 315lbs and comfortably got to 10 reps and decided I had far too much gas left in the tank and that I should go up in weight.

So I did.

I figured I might get a solid 6 reps in, but I made it to 7 and I think I could have gone on to get a full 10 reps BUT that's when good judgement prevailed.

As a bodybuilder having not trained this heavy for so many years, the shock of this much weight would be more than enough to stimulate muscle growth, and doing more reps wouldn't yield any greater returns, only increase the likelihood of injury.

It's not about the numbers, it's about training to a point where you achieve your goal, and it's important to have a goal in mind as a bodybuilder based on increasing muscle mass rather than hitting a particular number.

Besides, if in my 20's I never did more than 405lbs on a stiff leg deadlift, it doesn't make any sense going heavier than when I am almost 50!

Could I deadlift more at this point?

Absolutely but just because you can doesn't mean you should!

So keep those weights in a good working range, keep it safe and as always Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#hometraining #homeworkout #homeworkout #roguerack #highintensitytraining #naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuilding #fitover40 #naturalbodybuildingvideos #backworkout #naturalbodybuildingtips #backtraining #highintensitytrainingtips #drugfreebodybuilding #fitoverforty #deadlift

71 20

Turning 50 in a few months...

Not much of a big deal for me as I still feel pretty much the same but I hope that my example helps show what can be done with a lifetime commitment to eating well and training consistently!

Thanks for coming along on the journey and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuilding #healthylifestyle #fitover40 #drugfreebodybuilding #naturalbodybuildingmotivation #natty #fitness

242 41

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Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to CBS News, Kevin Richardson’s Naturally Intense High Intensity Training have helped hundreds lose weight and transform their bodies with his 10 Minute Workouts. One of the top natural bodybuilders of his time, Kevin is also the international fitness consultant for UNICEF and one of the top personal trainers in New York City.


If you liked this article you may also be interested in:

Conquering Emotional Eating
Is Exercise More Effective Than Medication in Treating Depression?
Exercise Addiction- How Much Is Too Much?

Exercise Induced Headaches and Migraines

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Kevin Richardson
Kevin Richardsonhttps://www.naturallyintense.net
Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to CBS News, celebrity Personal Trainer NYC and with over 2.6 million readers of his blog, Kevin Richardson is the creator of Naturally Intense High Intensity Training, one of the top lifetime drug free bodybuilders of his time, the first International Fitness & Nutrition Consultant for UNICEF, 2020 and 8 Time Winner of the Best of Manhattan Awards for Personal Training and a world recognized authority on high intensity training. Kevin has helped thousands, from celebrities to CEO's over the past 30 years achieve their fitness goals with his 10 minute high-intensity workouts done just three times a week in conjunction with his holistic nutrition approach. You can learn more about about his diet and training services at www.naturallyintense.net

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