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Exercise found to decrease anxiety and other stress-related disorders



Updated analysis needed in light of new studies and flaws in prior research


Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions that include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobias. Together with stress-related issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), these conditions have all been found to have negative impact on patients’ lives, such as a reduced quality of life and increased risk for heart disease and early death. Targeted medications and a psychiatric intervention called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are typically recommended as the primary treatments for patients with anxiety and stress disorders, but the outcomes are not always positive. About one-third of patients do not respond to medications or CBT, and these interventions are not available in certain parts of the world. Exercise is considered an alternative for the patients that are either unable or unwilling to try medications or CBT, but there has only been one high-quality study (meta-analysis) on the topic. At the time, this study concluded that there was not enough information to recommend exercise for anxiety disorders. Since then, however, additional research has been published, and researchers have pointed out certain flaws in the original meta-analysis. For this reason, an updated meta-analysis was conducted to evaluate the effects of exercise on symptoms in patients with anxiety or stress disorders.



Seven databases searched for relevant studies


The investigators performed a search of seven major medical databases for randomized-controlled trials (RCTs) that investigated the effectiveness of exercise in adults with an anxiety or stress-related disorder. RCTs evaluate specific interventions by randomly assigning patients to different groups, and they are considered the gold standard for determining if a treatment is beneficial. This search led to 62 studies being screened, and six RCTs fit the necessary criteria to be included in the meta-analysis. Once collected, the findings of these six RCTs were evaluated and compared to one another to assess the impact of exercise on patients.



Based on positive results, exercise should be considered a treatment option for anxiety


The six included RCTs contained data on 262 participants, with 132 undergoing an exercise treatment program and the other 130 serving as the control group, who did not undergo exercise and were used for comparison. Results showed that exercise significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety in these patients, who had a variety of disorders that included PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or social phobia. When compared to the control group, the effect size of exercise was found to be in the medium range.



Physical therapists can help promote exercise in patients with anxiety


These findings support the use of exercise for patients with anxiety or stress disorder, and the researchers suggested that it should therefore be considered a viable option for these patients. Physical therapists are movement specialists that promote and prescribe exercise for a wide variety of conditions. While they are often viewed as professionals that only treat physical problems, this study shows why they can also be utilized to help overcome mental health issues like anxiety. Patients with anxiety or stress-related disorders are therefore encouraged to seek out the services of a physical therapist for an exercise therapy program that can help them better manage their symptoms while also improving their health and fitness in the process.



-As reported in the March ’17 issue of Psychiatry Research
December 5, 2018
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