Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a condition characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worries. Approximately 90,000 Americans or three percent of the population suffer from GAD, a condition that adversely affects their health and quality of life.
Although GAD is difficult to overcome, new research suggests regular exercise can significantly reduce anxiety symptoms in patients with GAD.
The clinical presentation of GAD typically includes a variety of physical symptoms including fatigue, muscle tension, irritability and poor sleep.
University of Georgia researchers randomly assigned 30 sedentary women diagnosed with GAD to either a control group or six weeks of strength or aerobic exercise training. The women ranged in age from 18-37. Exercise training consisted of two sessions a week of either weight lifting or leg cycling exercise.
Assessment of GAD was then performed by psychologists who were unaware (blinded) of group status.
Researchers found that symptoms of GAD were more likely to retract among the exercise cohort. The largest reduction in symptoms occurred in the group that performed weight-lifting exercises.
All exercisers demonstrated a significant reduction in worry symptoms and moderate-to-large improvements in other symptoms, such as irritability, feelings of tension, low energy and pain, were found.
“Our findings add to the growing body of evidence of the positive effects of exercise training on anxiety,” said researcher and doctoral student Matthew Herring.
“Our study is the first randomized controlled trial focused on the effects of exercise training among individuals diagnosed with GAD. Given the prevalence of GAD and drawbacks of current treatments, including expense and potential negative side effects, our findings are particularly exciting, because they suggest that exercise training is a feasible, well-tolerated potential adjuvant therapy with low risk that can reduce the severity of signs and symptoms of GAD.
“Future research should confirm these findings with large trials and explore potential underlying mechanisms of exercise effects among individuals with GAD.”
Researchers also examined the efficacy of an exercise and medication regimen for the treatment of GAD.
In the study, half of the participants in each group were taking a medication to treat GAD during the exercise program.
Researchers found that the benefit of exercise training extended to all participants, lessening anxiety symptoms to the same degree among those taking medication compared to those not taking medication.
“The large improvements found in this small investigation show that regular exercise has the power to help calm women suffering from GAD, even among those who appear to be resistant to treatment using medication,” said exercise physiologist Patrick O’Connor, Ph.D.
“The results of this research are very exciting because exercise is available to everyone, is relatively inexpensive and has beneficial effects beyond the reduction of anxious and depressive symptoms,” said c0-author and clinical psychologist Cynthia Suveg, Ph.D.
“For individuals suffering from impairing symptoms, these preliminary findings suggest that exercise may offer another potential treatment option that has few, if any, negative side effects. Future research needs to explore the long-term benefits of exercise as well as the conditions under which exercise may be most beneficial and for whom.”
The study has been published online in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.
Source: University of Georgia