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Br J Sports Med. 2014 Feb;48(3):187-96. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2012-091287. Epub 2013 Jan 7.

Exercise for anxiety disorders: systematic review.

Author information

1
Academic Unit of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, University of Leeds, , Leeds, UK.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Anxiety disorders are commonly treated with antidepressants and psychological treatments. Some patients may prefer alternative approaches such as exercise.

OBJECTIVE:

To investigate the treatment effects of exercise compared with other treatments for anxiety disorders.

DATA SOURCES:

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of exercise interventions for anxiety disorders were identified by searching six online databases (July 2011). A number of journals were also hand searched.

MAIN RESULTS:

Eight RCTs were included. For panic disorder: exercise appears to reduce anxiety symptoms but it is less effective than antidepressant medication (1 RCT); exercise combined with antidepressant medication improves the Clinical Global Impression outcomes (1 RCT, p<0.05); exercise combined with occupational therapy and lifestyle changes reduces Beck Anxiety Inventory outcomes (1 RCT, p=0.0002). For social phobias, added benefits of exercise when combined with group cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) were shown (p<0.05). There was no significant difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise groups (1 RCT, p>0.1) with both seeming to reduce anxiety symptoms (1 RCT, p<0.001). It remains unclear as to which type of exercise; moderate to hard or very light to light, is more effective in anxiety reduction (2 RCTs).

CONCLUSIONS:

Exercise seems to be effective as an adjunctive treatment for anxiety disorders but it is less effective compared with antidepressant treatment. Both aerobic and non-aerobic exercise seems to reduce anxiety symptoms. Social phobics may benefit from exercise when combined with group CBT. Further well-conducted RCTs are needed.

KEYWORDS:

Exercise; Physical activity and exercise methodology; Psychology

PMID:
23299048
DOI:
10.1136/bjsports-2012-091287
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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