Exercise can be intimidating for many of us. It may be that we simply have no desire to push our bodies through difficult exercises on a regular basis. Finding time to get to the gym can also be incredibly difficult to jam into our already tight schedules.  On top of that, we can find ourselves overly anxious and stressed about weight loss and our body image. In these cases, is it possible that exercise can actually have detrimental side effects in addition to the well-known physical benefits?  Let’s take a look.

When Exercise Battles Stress
When you force yourself to go to the gym when your mind and body are telling you otherwise, are you doing more harm than good? Gretchen Reynolds of The New York Times points out that previous studies on animals confirm that intense exercise at intervals that are not within the animal’s control have been proven to increase stress. Since the animals could not control how long or what intensity they performed the exercise, stress automatically increased. While that doesn’t exactly replicate our experience in a gym, it does point to certain warning signs.

What the Study Shows
While forced exercise can cause undue stress, what about voluntary exercise that gives the animal control to exercise as much or little as he wishes? How does anxiety and stress factor into that situation? Reynolds suggests that evidence from a study at the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Colorado may hold the answers.

In the study, several groups of rats were tested under different scenarios. One group was placed on a wheel and had full control over when it exercised and at what intensity. In another group, the rats were placed in an exercising pattern with scientists have some control over the exercise. The third group was fully controlled by the scientists, and a fourth stayed stationary throughout the study.
After the exercising experiment was complete, scientists measured the stress levels of the four groups by placing them in an unknown environment. The first two groups, one of which had complete control of the exercise itself and the other that experienced partial control, were able to combat the stress of the unusual environment. The final two groups immediately experienced high levels of stress and anxiety.

How This Relates to Humans
Benjamin Greenwood, the professor that organized the study, states that a similar type of experiment has not been done on humans. Without a comparable experiment, what possible conclusion can we as humans gather from this specific study? While the groups of rats experienced different moods following exercise, Greenwood still claims that even forced exercise can have benefits when it comes to lowering your anxiety or stress levels.
So, even if we find ourselves under specific orders from a doctor and are compelled to exercise against our will, positive benefits are still the most likely outcome.

This might not be the conclusion you were hoping for, but, yes, exercise is good for you.  Even when you’d rather lay back on the couch than go to the gym, and despite the increased stress and anxiety you might feel, trust us, you’ll feel a whole lot better after a good workout.