Exercise And Anxiety

Posted: November 12, 2014 at 10:19 am

By: Anya Sailey

Exercise is generally recognized as an alternative method of treatment for a broad range of anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older in the United States, comprising 18% of the population (ADAA 2014). These disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment (ADAA 2014). Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive and unrealistic worry about everyday tasks events, or objects; simple phobias involve excessive anxiety evoked by specific objects, while social phobias are fears of interaction with others, particularly involving large groups (CDC 2014). Studies have shown that utilizing exercise as an intervention has repeatedly proven to be effective in the treatment of anxiety. The study titled “Reducing Anxiety Sensitivity with Exercise,” conducted by Smits et. al. in 2008, further serves to evidence this notion.

This study examined the role of prescribed exercise in reduction of anxiety-related sensations (anxiety sensitivity). Sixty participants with elevated levels of anxiety sensitivity were assigned at random to one of three categories: two-week exercise intervention, two-week exercise intervention coupled with cognitive restructuring, and a waitlist control condition. Assessments were taken at pre-treatment, mid-treatment, and post-treatment intervals. Both exercise conditions led to a significant reduction in anxiety sensitivity compared to that which was demonstrated by the waitlist condition. Interestingly enough, the cognitive restructuring component did not alter the effectiveness of exercise intervention. Changes in anxiety sensitivity aided with the participants’ moods in terms of reducing anxiety and depression.

This research study is one of many, which further supports the claim that exercise is an effective intervention in treating anxiety-related disorders. This type of study is helpful in terms of therapy program design, where exercise could potentially be included as an important component to accompany any combination of behavioral and pharmacological therapy. Additionally, the utilization of exercise as a component of therapy could aid in reducing conditions that co-exist with anxiety disorders, which include depression.


Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). 2014. Facts and statistics. Retrieved from http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics/

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2014. Mental health: Anxiety.

Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/basics/mental-illness/anxiety.htm

Smits, J.A, Berry A.C., Rosenfield D., Powers M.B., Behar E., Otto, M.W. 2008. Reducing anxiety sensitivity with exercise. Depress. Anxiety 25(8), 689-699.New Picture