Exercise Training Lowers Anxiety Levels

A recent study evaluated the effects of exercise training on anxiety symptoms in patients with chronic illness. The authors reviewed and analyzed findings from various published articles on trials involving sedentary adults with a chronic illness. Results indicated that exercise training reduces anxiety symptoms in chronically ill patients who lead an inactive lifestyle. “Exercise training programs lasting no more than 12 weeks, using session durations of at least 30 minutes and an anxiety report time frame greater than the past week resulted in the largest anxiety improvements.”

Though anxiety symptoms are common in individuals with chronic illness, they are often overlooked or not adequately treated by health care providers. Anxiety disorders can adversely impact the outcome of treatment in patients with chronic illness. Previous studies have suggested the role of exercise training in alleviating symptoms of anxiety. The authors of this study reviewed the results of several randomized controlled trials to determine the effects of exercise training on anxiety. Another aim of the study was to find out whether certain theoretical or practical variables like the type of the exercise stimulus and the technique for measuring anxiety can influence the results.

•    Forty English-language articles published in various scholarly journals from January 1995 to August 2007 were reviewed.
•    The articles were located using the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Scientific Database and several other databases through December 2008.
•    All the selected articles involved sedentary adults with a chronic illness, random assignment to either an exercise intervention of a minimum of three weeks or a comparable condition that lacked exercise training, and an anxiety outcome measured before and after exercise training.
•    Two co-authors independently analyzed studies of 2914 patients and extracted information about potential variables which may have influenced the results of the studies, using appropriate statistical methods.

Key findings
•    The analysis revealed that as compared to patients who received no treatment, exercise training significantly decreased anxiety symptoms among patients with a chronic illness.
•    Exercise training programs of three to 12 weeks resulted in significantly higher improvements in anxiety symptoms than programs lasting more than 12 weeks.
•    Exercise sessions lasting more than 30 minutes produced better results in minimizing anxiety symptoms.
•    The magnitude of improvement in anxiety symptoms was larger in studies where the anxiety report time frame was longer than the past week i.e. when the patients were asked to report their feelings of anxiety going back more days than the previous one week.

Next steps
More well-designed studies to examine the effects of exercise training on anxiety symptoms in individuals with known chronic illnesses are needed. Clear and comprehensive reporting of other information like use of medication, exact duration of exercise adherence by participants, and various types of exercise stimuli used can help understand the role of exercise training in achieving positive mental health outcomes better.

“Exercise training reduces anxiety symptoms among sedentary patients who have a chronic illness.” The results of this study provide substantial evidence to clinicians to recommend exercise training to patients with anxiety symptoms. Exercise training carries a minimal risk of adverse events; it is thus an excellent alternative line of treatment, especially for patients who do not prefer conventional forms of therapy like drugs. Most importantly, the results of the study indicate that alleviation of anxiety symptoms was a favorable outcome achieved by chance even in patients where exercise intervention was prescribed as a primary or supplementary treatment for a medical condition other than anxiety.

For More Information:
The Effect of Exercise Training on Anxiety Symptoms among Patients
Publication Journal: Archives of Internal Medicine, (Reprinted) February 2010
By Matthew P. Herring; Patrick J. O’Connor, PhD; University of Georgia, Athens

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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