Exercise may leave people feeling less anxious because they perceive their environments as less threatening, researchers found.
They asked students to watch an animation of a figure that could be perceived as moving toward or away from the viewer, and found that the students who exercised viewed the figure as less threatening, 'Live Science' reported.
This finding suggests that exercise could reduce anxiety by fostering the perception of a more positive environment, the researchers said.
"Exercising and doing relaxation techniques are already known to be good for anxiety, but this shows there is another potential benefit, because if you're perceiving the world as less threatening, that's less stuff you have to deal with," said study researcher Adam Heenan, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Queen's University in Canada.
In the study, the 66 students either stood still, walked or jogged on a treadmill, and then watched an animation of a human-like stick figure.
The figure's orientation was ambiguous, and could be perceived as walking away or toward the viewer.
Heenan said most people would perceive the figure as walking toward them, because of a bias called "facing-the-viewer" bias: people may have evolved to view a silhouette in the distance as a potentially approaching threat that they should prepare to meet; if, instead, the figure was moving away, it wouldn't matter.
The students in the study who walked or jogged were more likely to say the figure was walking away from them than were the students who stood still on the treadmill.
This finding suggests their "facing-the-viewer" bias was reduced, and they felt less threatened, researchers said.