Intense Exercise Can Decrease Symptoms of Anxiety

Evidence has shown that exercise can help combat the symptoms of several mental health problems, including depression and stress. But a new study suggests that people who suffer from panic and high levels of anxiety may also benefit from regular, intense exercise. High anxiety sensitivity is categorized by high levels of fear and worry and is usually accompanied with physical symptoms such as dizziness, racing pulse and shortness of breath. “Anxiety sensitivity is an established risk factor for the development of panic and related disorders,” said psychologist Dr. Jasper Smits of Southern Methodist University, lead author on the research. “This study suggests that this risk factor may be less influential among persons who routinely engage in high levels of physical activity.” He added, “We’re not suggesting, ‘Exercise is a useful alternative, particularly for those without access to traditional treatments. Primary care physicians already prescribe exercise for general health, so exercise may have the advantage of helping reach more people in need of treatment for depression and anxiety.”

The new results show that this type of exercise may be a viable complement to other treatments targeted at reducing the symptoms of anxiety. “Exercise can be a powerful addition to the range of treatments for depression, anxiety and general stress,” said Otto. “And when people exercise to feel good, they are also taking the exact steps they need to benefit their general health.” In the study, the researchers gathered information from 145 participants to gauge their level of exercise and anxiety. They then inhaled a special mixture of air that induces symptoms of anxiety. The study revealed that those who regularly performed intense exercise had fewer symptoms after inhaling the air than their more sedentary counterparts. Although the results are limited, the researchers hope that this study will push more clinicians to emphasize the importance of physical activity for the treatment of mental health problems.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jeff

    Jeff

    July 17th, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    I have found that exercise in and of itself can be very addictive. The feelings that you get when you exercise are very enjoyable. My question to anyone that can respond is what does intense exercise mean? I am fairly fit/active and I really enjoy distance cycling and running. However when I do either of these they are at a fairly low intensity level or what i rate a low level. To reduce my anxiety should I then start doing more intense excercises? Running more intervals, doing climbing repeats on the bike. Pushing my heart rate to it’s limits. Anyone with ideas on the matter?

  • selena harvey

    selena harvey

    July 17th, 2011 at 8:30 PM

    When you accomplish milestones, you feel good about yourself don’t you? Anxiety can be rooted in many things like a poor body image or a lack of self-confidence. Doing intense exercise will improve your stamina, your fitness levels, your lung capacity and your physique. It makes sense that achieving that boosts you up and helps lessen the symptoms.

  • delia glaser

    delia glaser

    July 17th, 2011 at 11:49 PM

    Sometimes you just need to walk away from what’s bothering you and let your head get around to dealing with it. I get really annoyed when someone pressures me into making a decision that was thrust upon me a second ago when I’ve not had time to decide. That triggers anxiety in me and I’ll regret any decision I rush into. So the key is not to rush!

  • anniejones

    anniejones

    July 18th, 2011 at 12:02 AM

    Agreed, it’s a good stress reliever in general with plenty of other benefits on top of it. The problem lies in the fact we simply don’t have the time or the energy to get some exercise after dealing with work, kids, and relationships.

    We only have 24 hours in a day and nine of those are for working, maybe two or more for commuting, and eight for sleeping. That leaves you five hours in a day for shopping, family, friends, personal entertainment, and exercise.

  • Kathleen Cairns

    Kathleen Cairns

    July 18th, 2011 at 1:48 PM

    @anniejones: I guarantee you that if you take just 30 minutes out of those remaining 5 hours to exercise five days a week, you’ll feel much better. Exercise helps you handle your busy days because you’re fitter and will feel more able to cope. Being too sedentary makes you lethargic.

  • Vlower Fase

    Vlower Fase

    July 18th, 2011 at 1:56 PM

    WhEtHeR iT cAn rEpLaCe tReAtMeNt oR nOt iS nOt a bIg issue.ThInK oF iT tHiS wAy:It wIlL sUrElY hElP yOu bUt wIlL bE mUcH mUcH bEtTeR iF cOmBiNeD wItH rEgUlAr tReAtMeNt.AnD mOrEoVeR eXeRcIsE iS aLwAyS a gOoD tHiNg,sO wHy nOt?

  • Rebekah Williams

    Rebekah Williams

    July 18th, 2011 at 8:30 PM

    @anniejones: No wonder my days feel so empty and cramped. Whatever happened to 8 hours labour, 8 hours rest, and 8 hours of recreation? I have to do a lot of shopping and visit relatives who are starting to get old so I can make sure they’re okay, and I have two dogs.

    I’m lucky if I even get 8 hours of sleep between all that.

  • G.C.

    G.C.

    July 18th, 2011 at 8:42 PM

    I feel a good run gives me all the time I need to think about what I need to do. You’re not paying attention to much while you go for a run for a few miles outside of traffic. I feel energized and ready to take on the day. The fresh air blows the cobwebs and anxieties clean away. :)

    And if you’re not ready to run, walking’s better than nothing.

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