New Study: Exercise Reduces Anxiety Symptoms

A recent study confirms what experts have been saying for years: exercise helps relieve anxiety syndrome. Even in people with chronic anxiety, researchers say moderate and intense exercise reduces symptoms.

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, conducted the study, which published the Journal of Affective Disorders.

The researchers recruited 286 anxiety syndrome patients from primary care services in Gothenburg and northern Halland County. 50% of patients suffered from anxiety for at least a decade. Participants had a mean age of 39 years and the majority (70%) were women.

The researchers randomly assigned participants to one of two group exercise programs that lasted 12 weeks. The first group performed cardiorespiratory training while the other completed resistance training. They also placed some participants in a no-exercise control group.

The team found that exercise programs significantly alleviated anxiety syndrome symptoms, even in people with chronic anxiety. The control group only received exercise counseling based on public health guidelines. Researchers did not notice a significant reduction in symptoms in this group.

Most people in the exercise treatment groups experienced a decline from moderate or high to low anxiety after 12 weeks. For people who have exercised reasonably low intensity, your mental health improved by a factor of 3.62. Those who exercised intensely felt even less anxious, with an improvement of 4.88. Participants were unaware of training programs or advice received from people outside their group.

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

Research Shows Exercise Reduces Symptoms of Anxiety Syndrome

Previous studies of how exercise helps people with depression have seen marked improvements in symptom severity. However, so far few studies have examined the effects of exercise on anxiety. The study by researchers at the University of Gothenburg is the largest of its kind to date.

Both exercise groups participated in one-hour training sessions three times a week with a physical therapist present. The sessions consisted of cardio exercises and strength training. The researchers designed the exercise program to include 12-station circuit training, repeated twice.

Cardiorespiratory exercises included step-ups, lunges, jumping rope, burpees, side steps, and platform steps. Resistance training exercises included squats, sit-ups, hip lifts, sit-ups, rowing exercises and push-ups. The training sessions also consisted of a 10-minute warm-up and 5-minute relaxation and stretching exercises.

Group members who completed moderate exercise to at least 60% of their maximum heart rate. Experts classify this degree of effort as mild or moderate. However, they were expected to exercise at 75% of their maximum heart rate in the heavy training group. This is considered a high degree of effort.

Participants wore a wristwatch to confirm their heart rate, and researchers validated the levels using the Borg scale. It measures the intensity of physical activity based on how you feel. Although it’s a subjective self-reported measure, researchers say it provides a reasonably accurate heart rate during exertion.

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Researchers believe that many mental health treatments need to be improved.

Most doctors prescribe cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or antianxiety medications for anxiety syndrome. However, psychotropic drugs often have unwanted side effects that nullify any improvement.

In addition, many patients have treatment-resistant anxiety, which means that they do not respond to traditional medical treatment. Qualified therapists who offer CBT can have long wait times, leaving patients with few options. Researchers say doctors must start prescribing a healthy lifestyle first to get to the root of the problem.

Maria Åberg, associate professor at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, a specialist in general medicine at the Västra Götaland region primary health care organization, and co-author led the study.

“Primary care physicians need individualized treatments, with few side effects and easy to prescribe. The model involving twelve weeks of physical training, regardless of intensity, represents an effective treatment that should be available in primary health care more frequently for people with anxiety problems”, says Åberg.

Fortunately, people with anxiety syndrome can often improve on their own by making lifestyle changes. A healthy, active lifestyle usually alleviates feelings of anxiety due to the endorphins released during exercise. Anxiety is primarily caused by pent-up energy, so moving the body can provide much-needed relief.

Other Tips to Reduce Anxiety Syndrome Symptoms

  • Use your smartphone or other devices sparingly. Studies have shown that excessive screen time can exacerbate anxiety and depression. Try to use your phone only when you need to and limit your use of social media.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Processed and prepared foods can worsen mental health. Opt for fresh, wholegrain foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains to reduce anxiety.
  • Prioritize sleep. In our “24 hours a day, 7 days a week” society, many of us stay up late watching Netflix instead of resting our beauty. As a result, we don’t feel as refreshed as we should for work or the school day. Make sure you sleep at least 7 to 8 hours a night to feel less anxious.
  • Practice positive thinking. In today’s chaotic world, it’s easy to look around and see what’s wrong. However, negative thinking spirals downward, robbing you of motivation and energy. Be sure to surround yourself with uplifting people and avoid negative exits to make yourself feel better.

Final Thoughts on How Moderate to Intense Exercise Helps with Anxiety Syndrome

It should come as no surprise that moving the body lessens the feeling of anxiety. Unfortunately, our increasingly sedentary lifestyle has cost us our mental health and overall well-being. Our bodies and minds shouldn’t be idle for hours on end. So make sure you get enough exercise throughout the week.

This study shows that vigorous exercise can alleviate anxiety symptoms and improve overall mental health. Hopefully, more doctors will prescribe exercise and healthy eating to remedy the epidemic of anxiety plaguing society.

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