Don't Panic, Just Exercise

Panic and anxiety attacks reduced with physical activity

(RxWiki News) A simple, inexpensive, non-medicated and healthy remedy may be very effective in preventing and reducing panic or anxiety disorders: physical exercise.

People who suffer from "high anxiety sensitivity" - intense fear of the dizziness, nausea, racing heart, stomachache and shortness of breath that accompany panic - can reduce their anxiety through higher levels of physical activity. The higher a person's anxiety sensitivity, the greater their risk for panic attacks.

"Exercise to help combat anxiety and panic."

Researchers at Southern Methodist University and the University of Vermont studied 145 adults with no history of panic attacks. After completing questionnaires, the participants were given a mixture of air and carbon dioxide to induce those sensations that normally occur with panic. Measurements of their anxiety reactivity were taken.

For the participants who regularly engaged in high levels of physical activity, their anxiety reactivity was lower. Jasper Smits, a psychologist with SMU who was the lead author of the research, says these findings build on previous studies that show exercise helps with anxiety and depression, improving mood and working like an antidepressant drug.

"We're not suggesting, 'Exercise instead of pharmacotherapy or psychotherapy,'" Smits said. "Exercise is a useful alternative, particularly for those without access to traditional treatments." He adds that it may be an effective strategy for the prevention and treatment of anxiety disorders, because anxiety sensitivity appears less influential among people who engage in regular exercise and physical activity.

Findings were reported in the scientific journal Psychosomatic Medicine in June 2011.

Review Date: 
October 17, 2011