Exercising relieves anxiety, even if it’s chronic. but who?

MADRID, November 20 (European press) –

A study led by researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, showed that moderate and strenuous exercise relieved anxiety symptoms, even when the disorder is chronic.

The study is based on 286 patients with anxiety syndrome, recruited from primary care services in Gothenburg and the northern part of Halland County. Half of the patients lived with anxiety for at least ten years. Their average age was 39 years and 70% were women.

By lot, participants were assigned group exercise sessions, moderate or vigorous, for 12 weeks. The results showed that their anxiety symptoms were significantly reduced, even when anxiety was a chronic condition, compared to a control group that received advice about physical activity based on public health recommendations.

Most individuals in the treatment groups moved from a moderate to high initial anxiety level to a low level of anxiety after the 12-week program. In the case of those who exercised at a relatively low intensity, the probability of improvement in terms of anxiety symptoms was multiplied by 3.62. The corresponding factor for those who exercised at a higher intensity was 4.88. Participants were not aware of the physical training or advice people outside their group received.

Explains Malin Henriksson, a doctoral student at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg who specializes in general medicine in the Halland region and first author of the study.

Previous studies on physical exercise in depression have shown significant improvement in symptoms. However, so far there is no clear picture of how exercise affects people with anxiety. The current study is described as one of the largest to date.

Both treatment groups conducted 60-minute training sessions three times a week, under the supervision of a physical therapist. Sessions included cardiovascular (aerobic) and strength training exercises. The warm-up was followed by circuit training around 12 stations for 45 minutes, and the sessions ended with a cool-down and a stretch.

Group members who did moderate exercise were required to reach about 60 percent of their maximum heart rate, the degree of exertion categorized as light or moderate. In the intensively trained group, the goal was to reach 75 percent of maximum heart rate, and this degree of effort was seen as high.

Levels were periodically validated with the Borg scale, a consistent rating scale of perceived physical exertion, and confirmed with heart rate monitors.

Current standard treatments for anxiety are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychotropic medication. However, these medications often have side effects, and patients with anxiety disorders often do not respond to medical treatment. Long waiting times for CBT can worsen the diagnosis.

The current study was led by Maria Aberg, associate professor at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, a specialist in general medicine at the Västra Götaland Primary Care Organization, and the corresponding author.

“Primary care physicians need individualized treatments, with few side effects and easy to prescribe. The 12-week form of physical training, regardless of intensity, represents an effective treatment that should be available in primary care often for women. People with anxiety Aberg says.

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