The anxiety that often accompanies a chronic illness can gradually diminish the quality of life and make patients less likely to follow their treatment plan.  Anxiety often remains unrecognized or untreated among patients with a chronic illness. Exercise training may help improve anxiety symptoms among patients Regular exercise can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety, a new University of Georgia study shows.


The study featured in the Feb. 22, 2010 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine.  Forty randomized clinical trial involving almost 3,000 patients, with numerous medical conditions were reviewed.  The researchers determined that patients who exercised, experience a 20 per cent reduction in their symptoms of anxiety compared to those who did not exercise.


“Our findings add to the growing body of evidence that physical activities such as walking or weight lifting may turn out to be the best medicine that physicians can prescribe to help their patients feel less anxious,” said lead author Matthew Herring, a doctoral student in the department of kinesiology, part of the UGA College of Education.


Anxiety and exercise has not been evaluated as extensively as depression and exercise has.  Because the number of people experiencing chronic illnesses is likely to grow, as our population ages,  emphasizes the need for a low-cost, effective treatment.


The researchers reviewed only randomized controlled trials, which are the gold standard of clinical research, to ensure that only the highest quality data were used. The patients in the studies had cancer, chronic arthritis pain, cardiovascular (heart) disease, and multiple sclerosis. In 90 percent of the studies examined, the patients randomly assigned to exercise had fewer anxiety symptoms-nervousness, worry, and apprehension, compared to the  control group.


“We found that exercise seems to work with just about everybody under most situations,” said study co-author Pat O’Connor, professor and co-director of the UGA Exercise Psychology Laboratory. “Exercise even helps people who are not very anxious to begin with become more calm.”


Exercising for longer than a half hour caused better results, compared to exercising for less than 30 minutes.  And quite surprisingly, the programs lasting more than 12 weeks were not as effective at reducing anxiety as were those with a duration between 3 and 12 weeks. The researchers suggested that the participants were not as likely to continue their participation in the longer programs.


Professor of Kinesiology, Rod Dishman, study co-author wrote “Because not all study participants completed every exercise session, the effect of exercise on anxiety reported in our study may be underestimated,” Regardless, our work supports the use of exercise to treat a variety of physical and mental health conditions, with less risk of adverse events than medication.”