Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms Disappear With Exercise

A new study shows that consistent exercise can greatly reduce the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Conducted at the University of Georgia by doctoral student Matthew Herring, presently an associate at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, the research addressed the impact of exercise among 30 inactive women, ages 18-37, who suffer from GAD.

GAD is a stress-related condition marked by excessive and persistent worry about everyday activities. The tension is often irrational, with the patient in a state of constant distress about issue related to work, personal relationships, finances and health, among others. Even with individuals being aware that their concern is excessive and unjustified, those with GAD struggle to control their fears.

GAD interferes with daily life, often making sufferers unable to concentrate, experience fatigue and irritability, and suffer from sleep problems. Physical manifestations may result as well, such as muscle tension, and headaches and stomach pains.

The disorder is considered the most common mental illness in the country, with roughly 18% of the population affected. The condition is more common amongst women than men, and children are also susceptible to developing GAD. A combination of genetic and environmental factors is believed to be involved in the emergence of the disorder, and certain life events and personality traits making some more prone to develop the condition.

Six Weeks Of Rigorous Cardio

In the study, Herring and his colleagues randomly divided participants into two groups: a control group that did not engage in any exercise or lifestyle change, and a cohort assigned to a six-week resistance or aerobic training program. The subjects in the resistance group participated in lower-body weightlifting exercises, while those in the aerobic group worked on leg-cycling along with resistance and load progression activities.

The women were diagnosed with GAD by clinicians who were unaware of which treatment group they were assigned to. Furthermore, half of the women in each group were taking medication for GAD, allowing researchers to further examine possible interactions between drugs and exercise.

Researchers used the Penn State Worry Questionnaires to assess the women's worry symptoms, finding that no adverse results arose as a result of the exercise. In fact, the opposite result emerged: the women reported a significant reduction in their anxiety symptoms, with remission rates measured at 60% for the resistance group and 40% for the women engaged in aerobic training.

Exercise Is As Effective As Medication

In addition, the reduction in symptoms was equal among those women taking drugs for GAD and those receiving no medication, leading scientists to suggest that exercise may be effective even for people whose condition may be more resistant to treatment with medication.

The study, published in late 2011 in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, prompted scientists to further suggest that exercise can provide positive benefits with limited risk, expense and no negative side effects. They also noted exercise is readily accessible, and provides various additional health benefits that improve many physical and mental conditions. Acknowledging the limitations of the study due to its small study sample, the researchers recommended future explorations to examine the long-term impact of exercise and to determine which physical activity is most beneficial for different people.

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