Mend Physical Therapy Blog and Injury Information

Reducing Anxiety Through Exercise

March 16, 2020


The physical benefits of aerobic and resistance exercise are well known and established, but we are learning more about the emotional and mental health benefits of daily exercise. The National Institutes of Health reports 19% of American adults will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and more than 30% may develop an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. In general, anxiety can be broken down into two categories, state anxiety (the coronavirus, stock market, toilet paper aisle makes me anxious) or trait anxiety (I am an anxious person). This blog is not a substitute for medical care and we recommend individuals with persistent anxiety should be seen by a physician or mental health provider. Instead, we will focus on the beneficial effects of exercise on both state and trait anxiety.

Research in this area has focused on randomized, controlled trials evaluating the impact of exercise on anxiety. Systematic reviews of the available evidence have been very positive with authors reporting exercise may be as effective as other medical interventions (Stubbs et al. Psychiatry Res. 2017 and Wipfli et al. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2008). These randomized trials examined patients with various anxiety disorders including generalized, social, and panic disorders. Importantly, the majority of national organizations recommend exercise as an initial treatment for this disorder when individuals with more significant or serious symptoms and conditions are concurrently under the care of a mental healthcare provider.

When approved for use by these providers exercise can be an effective adjunct treatment. Similar to other mental health populations, patients with anxiety often do not meet the national guidelines on exercise dosage each week. Individuals likely face more numerous and significant barriers to exercise participation. In the aforementioned systematic reviews, authors included 262 adults and found a moderate effect size for anxiety reduction among the exercise group compared to control. The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends adults should aim for

  • 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, or

  • 75-150 minutes of vigorous exercise each week (may not be appropriate for all individuals), or

  • A combination of moderate intensity and vigorous exercise

In difficult and anxiety producing times, exercise can be a helpful tool for our overall well being including our mental health. Thankfully in Colorado we have amazing access to outdoor activities and numerous forms of physical activity modes. We advise all patients to speak to their medical provider before beginning any exercise program.

Stay Fit