The positive impact of physical exercise on mental health has been recognized for quite a while. But a new study gives HR and wellness leaders an even greater reason to motivate employees to get up and move. Research now shows that physical exercise can reduce anxiety by a jaw-dropping 61%. Because the study tracked over 400,000 people for 21 years, it’s obvious that these results apply to employee anxiety.

Reported in Frontiers In Psychiatry, the work by Swedish researchers is a big deal, considering that 10% of the global population — and 20% of American adults — suffers some form of anxiety disorder. In addition, employee anxiety, like stress and depression, is a mental health concern that’s been greatly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, especially during difficult times or changes in our lives, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. As the Mayo Clinic says, “These feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger, and can last a long time.” 

An employee’s life at home and on the job will almost certainly suffer.


Employee anxiety leads to other complications

Anxiety can exact high tolls beyond its common and often crippling symptoms of intense worry or fear. It increases the risk for other mental health disorders, including depression, and it can contribute to diabetes, substance abuse, lack of sleep, social isolation, and cardiovascular problems.

The causes of serious anxiety, meanwhile, aren’t clearly understood. Anxiety disorders (of which there are several forms) have been linked to underlying health conditions, from respiratory disorders to certain medications. Life experiences such as traumatic events also appear to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to anxiety. Inherited traits also can be a factor.


Getting physical: It not only eases anxiety — it helps prevent it

Regardless of the cause or type of anxiety disorder, studies indicate that people with anxiety also tend to be more sedentary and do less intense physical activity, if they get any exercise at all. Previous research and reports by publications such as Harvard Health say physical exercise can ease anxiety for several reasons.

The new study from Sweden apparently is the first to not only track so many people and be conducted over such a long period, but to quantify the impact of exercise on preventing anxiety. Now we have even greater proof that getting up and moving is the best non-medical solution for not only easing but preventing anxiety. 

Here are a few tips for getting your people to put on their workout gear and get some exercise: 

  • Be sure you have a holistic benefits package, one that includes the range of wellbeing programs employees expect from employers today.
  • Partner with an employee wellness solution that can help your workforce get motivated and stay motivated, not only physically but emotionally and mentally.
  • Encourage your workforce to exercise year-round.
  • Make sure your wellness platform offers the right physical and mental health resources.
  • Don’t forget to make wellness programs accessible to all employees — salaried and hourly alike.

Stepping up to help your workforce get more steps in their day could prevent cases of anxiety down the road.