How Exercise Can Help Reduce Anger

Learn how exercise can help reduce anger from anger management expert Dr. J. Ryan Fuller in this Howcast video.


Hi, I am Dr. Ryan Fuller. I'm clinical psychologist and I am going to talk to you a little bit about question I get all the time in giving the presentations. Whether or not exercise is the best or even a good anger management strategy. So the evidence for this I think is pretty good but we want to make sure that we carefully see two different types of exercises. So the first and this is even recommended by supposed anger experts and books is that going and taking your frustration or your anger or your rage out on a punching bag or a pillow or some other inanimate object is a very good anger management strategy. In fact there’s lots of scientific evidence that in fact says just the opposite. So that is based on the idea of catharsis and that by going and sort of displacing or releasing my anger by punching a pillow or putting someone's face on a pillow and punching it, I’m in fact discharging this aggressive energy and somehow it's then gone and dissipated. In fact there’ve been number of studies done and what they showed is that... In one case, they actually used the punching bag and people were... first they were triggered. Their anger in fact was brought on by... they wrote an essay and then they had someone criticize them. So always people became angry and then they were signed to different conditions.

One of those conditions was to hit a punching bag, while they thought about the person that had been critical of their essay. One of the other conditions in fact they were criticized and then they hit a punching bag but instead they were in fact thinking about physical fitness. Then afterwards, they in fact had the opportunity to aggress against another person by, I think delivering a loud noise. So, a form of aggression. It turns out the people who in fact were ruminating about the person who actually criticized them are more angry and more aggressive than other conditions. And so they’ve been other stage in the past that have used different models but it comes out again and again that if you're punching an inanimate object while thinking about... sort of to vent your anger, you in fact are likely increasing the anger and you're increasing the likelihood of aggression in the future. So that particular strategy in terms of taking your anger out by exercising in fact is not one that I recommend. With that said, using exercise to manage one's mood and to reduce your stress does seem to be a fairly sensible strategy for managing anger. We know that aerobic exercise for instance reduces depression symptoms. And we do know that negative effect, any negative emotion like those that go along with depression put us at risk for aggression. So on a regular basis, I've seen with my clients, they are engaging in exercise not as a form of handling a crisis in the moment but on a regular basis brings down their stress and allows them to handle crisis situation where anger and aggression might be problematic much much better.

Likewise, certainly going for a walk when you're angry might be a sensible thing to do. Takes you away from the anger trigger and allows you some time and space to think things through. But the idea of going and punching an inanimate object is a form of exercise to manage anger is not something that I would recommend.

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