The anxiety that often accompanies a chronic illness can chip away at quality of life and make patients less likely to follow their treatment plan, but regular exercise can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety, a new University of Georgia study shows.
In a study appearing in the February 22 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed the results of 40 randomized clinical trials involving nearly 3,000 patients with a variety of medical conditions. They found that, on average, patients who exercised regularly reported a 20 percent reduction in anxiety symptoms compared to those who did not exercise.
“Our findings add to the growing body of evidence that physical activities such as walking or weight lifting may turn out to be the best medicine that physicians can prescribe to help their patients feel less anxious,” said lead author Matthew Herring, a doctoral student in the department of kinesiology, part of the UGA College of Education.
The patients in the studies suffered from a variety of conditions, including heart disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer and chronic pain from arthritis. In 90 percent of the studies examined, the patients randomly assigned to exercise had fewer anxiety symptoms, such as feelings of worry, apprehension and nervousness, than the control group.
Exercise sessions greater than 30 minutes were better at reducing anxiety than sessions of less than 30 minutes, but surprisingly, programs with a duration of between three and twelve weeks appear to be more effective at reducing anxiety than those lasting more than 12 weeks. The researchers noted that study participants were less likely to stick with the longer exercise programs, which suggests that better participation rates result in greater reductions in anxiety.