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More Benefits of Exercise: Preventing and Treating Anxiety

  • July 29, 2019
  • Anxiety

There are many reasons we should all be getting out to exercise– improved sleep, increased energy, reduced risk of chronic disease and more. Preventing anxiety is one more reason to keep up your exercise routine, according to new research published in June in the journal Depression and Anxiety.

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can alert us to dangers and help us pay attention. Anxiety disorders, however, involve excessive fear or anxiety and are disruptive to normal functioning. Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental disorders. They affect an estimated 11% of adults worldwide and are the fourth leading cause of disability in adults. People with anxiety disorders are also at greater risk of conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. A group of people standing on top of a grass covered field Description automatically generated

A new analysis of research from an international group of researchers led by Felipe B. Schuch, Ph.D., looked at the relationship between physical activity and the development of anxiety. They reviewed 13 studies involving more than 75,000 people. Among people with no symptoms of anxiety, high levels of physical activity were associated with 27% lower rates of new onset of anxiety disorder or symptoms compared to low levels of physical activity. The high physical activity levels helped protect against anxiety symptoms for children/adolescents and for adults.

Another recent study of more than 27,000 people over 13 years also found benefits of exercise in relation to anxiety symptoms. The study found that people who engaged in 150 minutes or more of moderate or vigorous leisure time physical activity had 24% lower odds of having anxiety symptoms. More time spent exercising, 300 minutes or more per week, was associated with 36% lower odds of anxiety symptoms. The authors conclude that “engaging in leisure time physical activity at levels recommended for general health may reduce the risk of elevated anxiety symptoms.” A picture containing building, person, skating, man Description automatically generated

Exercise may be helpful not only in preventing anxiety, but also in treating symptoms of anxiety. A meta-analysis in 2017 found that exercise significantly decreased anxiety symptoms in people with a current diagnosis of anxiety and/ or stress-related disorders. Some research has shown that even a single session of exercise can help alleviate symptoms.

Researchers Brendan Stubbs, Ph.D., and colleagues concluded that: “Taken together with the wider benefits of exercise on well-being and cardiovascular health, these findings reinforce exercise as an important treatment option in people with anxiety/stress disorders.”


  • Stubbs, B, et al. An examination of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for people with anxiety and stress-related disorders. Psychiatry Res. 2017 Mar;249:102-108.
  • Schuch, FB, Stubbs, B., Meyer, J, Hiles, SA. Physical activity protects from incident anxiety: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Depression and Anxiety. June 2019.
  • Wilcox, C. Physical Activity Is Good for Anxiety Too! (Reviewing Schuch FB et al. Depress Anxiety 2019.) JAMA Psychiatry. July 2019.
  • Hallgren M, Associations of physical activity with anxiety symptoms and disorders: Findings from the Swedish National March Cohort. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2019 May - Jun;58:45-50.
  • Schuch, FB, et. al. Physical Activity and Incident Depression: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2018. 175(7)

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