A new study from the University of Gothenburg has found that both moderate and strenuous exercise may alleviate anxiety symptoms. Researchers believe that even when the disorder is chronic, exercise can play an essential role in helping to reduce the symptoms of anxiety.
Published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, the study was based on 286 patients with anxiety. All patients were recruited from primary care services in Gothenburg in the northern part of Halland county. Half of the participants had lived with anxiety for at least ten years, 70 percent were women, and their average age was 39.
All participants were assigned to group exercise sessions that were either moderate or strenuous for 12 weeks. Both treatment groups had 60-minute training sessions three times a week.
The sessions included cardio and strength training. A warmup was followed by circle training around 12 stations for 45 minutes and sessions and cool down and stretching.
Most participants in the treatment groups went from a baseline level of moderate to high anxiety to low-level anxiety after the 12-week program. Those who were in the low-intensity group had an improvement in anxiety symptoms by a factor of 3.62. The corresponding factor for those who exercise with higher intensity was 4.88.
Overall, the results showed that participants’ anxiety symptoms were significantly alleviated even when it was chronic anxiety. Researchers believe this study is an important step in understanding how physical health can greatly affect cognitive health.
Clear Symptom Improvements
Previous studies had shown clear symptom improvements with physical exercise. However, a true picture of how people with anxiety are affected by exercise was lacking.
Treatment for anxiety includes cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and psychotropic drugs. However, these drugs commonly have side effects, and those with anxiety disorders do not typically respond well to medical treatment. There are also long wait times for CBT.
Malin Henriksson, the lead author, said, “Doctors in primary care need treatments that are individualized, have few side effects, and are easy to prescribe. The model involving 12 weeks of physical training, regardless of intensity, represents an effective treatment that should be made available in primary care more often for people with anxiety issues.”