What Kinds of Exercise Help to Reduce Social Anxiety?

Types of Physical Exercise That Help Alleviate SAD

Exercise such as yoga may reduce anxiety.
Yoga can help to reduce anxiety. Getty / Hero Images

Exercise can help to reduce social anxiety. If you suffer from social anxiety disorder (SAD) and don't already engage in regular physical exercise, consider upping your movement quota: research shows that various forms of exercise can have a positive impact on your psychological well-being, help relieve anxiety and improve self-esteem.

Below are a few different types of exercise that you could consider including as part of a regular routine.


Yoga can range from gentle to challenging. The most common form of yoga (hatha yoga) involves physical poses (known as asanas), controlled breathing and periods of meditation. Yoga is a low-risk method for healing the body and mind.

Research shows that yoga can help to

  • decrease physiological arousal
  • lower heart rate
  • lower blood pressure
  • improve respiration

In addition to the positive health benefits of yoga, there are also established psychological benefits.

Yoga has been shown to

  • reduce the stress response 
  • reduce depression and anxiety
  • increase energy and feelings of well-being

These effects have been found both when yoga is performed over a long period of time, and also after just one class.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that combines meditation and rhythmic breathing in a slow series of graceful body movements and poses (also called forms). Tai Chi has been shown to

  • reduce stress
  • lower blood pressure
  • reduce anxiety
  • improve depressed mood
  • increase self-esteem

Tai Chi is particularly popular with older adults and may be a good addition to a treatment regimen for social anxiety disorder (SAD).

Aerobic Exercise

There is growing research evidence that regular aerobic exercise (such as running, cycling or swimming) is associated with better psychological health.

Although studies have focused on depression, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), there's also some evidence to suggest a positive effect of exercise on social anxiety disorder.

Both single sessions and long-term programs of aerobic exercise have been shown to provide a positive benefit for psychological health.

Although as little as five to ten minutes of aerobic exercise can help to improve your current level of anxiety (known as state anxiety), regular programs, lasting from 10 to 15 weeks, generally offer the most long-term improvement. In addition to reducing anxiety, regular aerobic exercise has also been shown to improve self-esteem.

If you are just starting out with an exercise program, it's important to consult with your doctor to determine the best form of exercise and intensity level for your physical condition.

Although regular physical exercise is no substitute for traditional treatments for SAD such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication, it may offer some benefit both to your physical and psychological well-being.


Harvard Health Publications. Yoga for Anxiety and Depression. Accessed October 15th, 2012.

Psychology Today. Exercise for Anxiety. Accessed October 10th, 2012.

Stanford Medicine. Tai Chi Linked to Mental-Health Boost, But More Study is Needed. Accessed October 15th, 2012.

Scully D, Kremer J, Meade MM, Graham R, Dudgeon K. Physical exercise and psychological well being: A critical review. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 1998;32:111-120.

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