Anxiety Effectively Treated with Exercise

Both moderate and strenuous exercise alleviate symptoms of anxiety, even when the disorder is chronic, a study led by researchers at the University of Gothenburg shows.

The study, now published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, 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 had lived with anxiety for at least ten years. Their average age was 39 years, and 70 percent were women.

Through drawing of lots, participants were assigned to group exercise sessions, either moderate or strenuous, for 12 weeks. The results show that their anxiety symptoms were significantly alleviated even when the anxiety was a chronic condition, compared with a control group who received advice on physical activity according to public health recommendations.

Most individuals in the treatment groups went from a baseline level of moderate to high anxiety to a low anxiety level after the 12-week program. For those who exercised at relatively low intensity, the chance of improvement in terms of anxiety symptoms rose by a factor of 3.62. The corresponding factor for those who exercised at higher intensity was 4.88. Participants had no knowledge of the physical training or counseling people outside their own group were receiving.

“There was a significant intensity trend for improvement — that is, the more intensely they exercised, the more their anxiety symptoms improved,” states Malin Henriksson, doctoral student at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, specialist in general medicine in the Halland Region, and the study’s first author.

Importance of Strenuous Exercise

Previous studies of physical exercise in depression have shown clear symptom improvements. However, a clear picture of how people with anxiety are affected by exercise has been lacking up to now. The present study is described as one of the largest to date.

Both treatment groups had 60-minute training sessions three times a week, under a physical therapist’s guidance. The sessions included both cardio (aerobic) and strength training. A warmup was followed by circle training around 12 stations for 45 minutes, and sessions ended with cooldown and stretching.

Members of the group that exercised at a moderate level were intended to reach some 60 percent of their maximum heart rate — a degree of exertion rated as light or moderate. In the group that trained more intensively, the aim was to attain 75 percent of maximum heart rate, and this degree of exertion was perceived as high.

The levels were regularly validated using the Borg scale, an established rating scale for perceived physical exertion, and confirmed with heart rate monitors.

New, Simple Treatments Needed

Today’s standard treatments for anxiety are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychotropic drugs. However, these drugs commonly have side effects, and patients with anxiety disorders frequently do not respond to medical treatment. Long waiting times for CBT can also worsen the prognosis.

The present study was led by Maria Aberg, associate professor at the University of Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska Academy, specialist in general medicine in Region Västra Götaland’s primary healthcare organization, and corresponding author.

“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 health care more often for people with anxiety issues,” Åberg says.

5 Tips For Overcoming Anxiety

I received a question on how to deal with anxiety in the form of a comment on an Instagram photo that I posted recently, and the question came from a graduate student studying to be a counselor. Many of us who seek to help, do so because we too have many things to overcome.

images (43)In response, I compiled a list of practical things that help with overcoming anxiety. Some of this comes from my own personal experiences, some comes from experiences in working with people who struggle with extreme anxiety and some comes from interviewing my biological mother, who has also struggled with anxiety of her own. She now helps people improve their wellness as a quit smoking coach. The following information is not medical advice, but is my opinion and shared opinions of others who I have interacted with.

No matter how severe your anxiety is, I believe that continuing to seek knowledge is the most important thing in reaching a higher level of mental wellness. Props to you for being here and in search of your own progress! With hope, dedication and focus, overcoming anxiety is possible.

  1. Desensitizing

    When dealing with anxiety related to a specific social situation, professional setting, or conversation, I personally use desensitization techniques. This means that I psych myself up in preparation for the situation and I force myself to be uncomfortable.  This generally opens the door for a negative experience, but it also creates the opportunity for me to learn and gain first hand experience as to how bad a situation really is. It also alleviates the fear of the unknown, which is often the culprit behind hatred and avoidance.  However, desensitization is definitely not the best option for everyone due to the extreme toughness that it takes to force yourself to be uncomfortable.

  2. Create a Chronically Balanced Life

    For me, anxiety often stems from a lack of balance. An imbalanced diet, physical activity, sense of safety or even imbalanced to-to lists are major precipitating factors when it comes to feeling anxious. If you are chronically anxious, what could be a better way to fight anxiety than to establish chronic balance and stability? If anxiety stems from having an imbalance, identifying and correcting that imbalance can and will diminish the frequency and severity of anxiety.  This method is effective mostly because it is not a way to “treat” or “get rid of” the anxiety, but instead it prevents it from getting bad to begin with.

  3. Take Care of Your Body

    When we get busy with school, work, relationships, and life it is very easy to let this slip. We focus on helping others or fulfilling duties that when we have time to ourselves we cope by doing mind-numbing things such as watching TV and sitting on the computer doing nothing for hours. Focus on creating a chronic pattern of exercise

  4. Eat Fresh

    This can be done with simple changes such as forcing yourself to plan meals ahead of time and using fresh produce.Keeping simple snacks like peanuts, almonds, and bananas wards off the hunger between meals. Eating small amounts every 2-4 hours during the day improves metabolism.  Buying local adds to the experience. Salads with grilled chicken, fresh fruit, beans, etc. are great. Peanut butter is awesome. If you are overwhelmed with the idea of thinking about what to eat, try to picking a few of these and sticking to them, alternating a few times each week or every other week. consistency is key. Cutting soda, excessive coffee, and processed foods will greatly improve your health and energy level. In turn, you are more focused and less likely to be stressed out.

  5. Treat Yourself Like a Queen/King

    Keeping a nice environment with essential oils like Lavender and also drinking chamomile tea helps. Cutting out people who disturb a calm environment is something you deserve. Take time to bathe with the lights dimmed and scents in the air. Using oils is less toxic than candles. You probably spend time focusing on other things so spend time focusing on yourself.  Taking the time to set a plan for how you will respond to stressful situations that cause you anxiety is a great way to ward off attacks. Deep breathing, yoga, etc are helpful.

There is no one thing, it is a lifestyle that facilitates being conscious and aware at all times. You may also want to check out my blog about overcoming a fear of abandonment.

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