Friday, June 15

the relationship between exercise and anxiety reduction

There have been six meta-analyses examining the relationship between exercise and anxiety reduction (Calfas & Taylor, 1994; Kugler, Seelback, & Krüskemper, 1994; Landers & Petruzzello, 1994; Long & van Stavel, 1995; McDonald & Hodgdon, 1991; Petruzzello, Landers, Hatfield, Kubitz, & Salazar, 1991). These meta-analyses ranged from 159 studies (Landers & Petruzzello, 1994; Petruzzello et al., 1991) to five studies (Calfas & Taylor, 1994) reviewed. All six of these meta-analyses found that across all studies examined, exercise was significantly related to a reduction in anxiety. These effects ranged from “small” to “moderate” in size and were consistent for trait, state, and psychophysiological measures of anxiety. The vast majority of the narrative reviews and all of the meta-analytic reviews support the conclusion that across studies published between 1960 and 1995 there is a small to moderate relationship showing that both acute and chronic exercise reduces anxiety. This reduction occurs for all types of subjects, regardless of the measures of anxiety being employed (i.e., state, trait or psychophysiological), the intensity or the duration of the exercise, the type of exercise paradigm (i.e., acute or chronic), and the scientific quality of the studies. Another meta-analysis (Kelley & Tran, 1995) of 35 clinical trial studies involving 1,076 subjects has confirmed the psychophysiological findings in showing small (–4/–3 mm Hg), but statistically significant, postexercise reductions for both systolic and diastolic blood pressure among normal normotensive adults.

In addition to these general effects, some of these meta-analyses (Landers & Petruzzello, 1994; Petruzzello et al., 1991) that examined more studies and therefore had more findings to consider were able to identify several variables that moderated the relationship between exercise and anxiety reduction. Compared to the overall conclusion noted above, which is based on hundreds of studies involving thousands of subjects, the findings for the moderating variables are based on a much smaller database. More research, therefore, is warranted to examine further the conclusions derived from the following moderating variables. The meta-analyses show that the larger effects of exercise on anxiety reduction are shown when: (a) the exercise is “aerobic” (e.g., running, swimming, cycling) as opposed to nonaerobic (e.g., handball, strength-flexibility training), (b) the length of the aerobic training program is at least 10 weeks and preferably greater than 15 weeks, and (c) subjects have initially lower levels of fitness or higher levels of anxiety. The “higher levels of anxiety” includes coronary (Kugler et al., 1994) and panic disorder patients (Meyer, Broocks, Hillmer-Vogel, Bandelow & Rüther, 1997). In addition, there is limited evidence which suggests that the anxiety reduction is not an artifact “due more to the cessation of a potentially threatening activity than to the exercise itself” (Petruzzello, 1995, p. 109), and the time course for postexercise anxiety reduction is somewhere between four to six hours before anxiety returns to pre-exercise levels (Landers & Petruzzello, 1994). It also appears that although exercise differs from no treatment control groups, it is usually not shown to differ from other known anxiety-reducing treatments (e.g., relaxation training). The finding that exercise can produce an anxiety reduction similar in magnitude to other commonly employed anxiety treatments is noteworthy since exercise can be considered at least as good as these techniques, but in addition, it has many other physical benefits.


Gerald Russell said...

Anxiety can quite easily turn into feelings of panic when the symptoms of anxiety become so acute that they are allowed to consume the individual, producing heightened feelings of loss of control. As symptoms are experienced, they seem to feed the fear and, in so doing, they thereby enhance it and - hey presto, panic!

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