Exercise training provides an effective means for reducing anxiety symptoms, with minimal risk of adverse events. Anxiety reduction is a favorable outcome of exercise interventions that were designed as a primary treatment or adjuvant for medical conditions other than anxiety.
Herring and colleagues examined results from 40 randomized controlled trials that studied the effects of exercise training on anxiety in sedentary, chronically ill patients. All studies had to have randomly assigned the 2914 participants to an exercise program that lasted at least 3 weeks or a comparison condition that did not involve exercise.
The patients who participated in exercise training had significantly reduced anxiety symptoms compared with the patients who remained sedentary. Programs that lasted 3 to 12 weeks reduced anxiety significantly more than programs that lasted longer than 12 weeks. The reason for the superior efficacy of the shorter programs is unclear but may be related to better adherence to treatment. The exercise sessions that lasted longer than 30 minutes relieved anxiety symptoms better than the shorter bouts.
The authors noted that exercise training may be especially useful for patients who prefer nonpharmaceutical treatments because such preferences may influence the magnitude of the treatment outcomes.