Exercise, even moderate, can help improve symptoms of anxiety

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Moderate to strenuous exercise can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, even in chronic cases, according to a recent study in Sweden.

A study from the University of Gothenburg looked at 286 participants from Gothenburg area and split them into three groups. One group performed moderate exercise for 12 weeks, another group performed strenuous exercise for twelve weeks, and one group received advice on physical activity. The exercise groups had 60-minute workout sessions three days a week and performed cardio and strength training. Both groups saw improvements in anxiety, but the non-exercise group did not. The study was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

“There was a significant intensity trend for improvement—that is, the more intensely they exercised, the more their anxiety symptoms improved,” said Malin Henriksson, the study’s first author.

Standard treatments for anxiety include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychotropic drugs, but both treatments have drawbacks. Drugs commonly have side effects and frequently don’t improve patients’ anxiety, and long waiting times for CBT can worsen the disorder. The study offers another option for doctors treating patients with the disorder.

“Doctors in primary care need treatments that are individualized, have few side effects, and are easy to prescribe. The model involving 12 weeks of physical training, regardless of intensity, represents an effective treatment that should be made available in primary health care more often for people with anxiety issues,” Åberg says.

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