A six-week exercise training programme can help relieve the symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), according to the first-ever randomised trial to investigate whether physical activity helps patients with the condition.
"Our findings suggest that exercise training is a feasible, safe, and well-tolerated short-term treatment option, potential adjuvant therapy or augmentation for patients with GAD," Dr Matthew P. Herring of the University of South Carolina in Columbus, US, told Reuters Health. "These findings warrant further investigation with larger trials."
Herring presented the findings in Denver at the American College of Sports Medicine's Annual Meeting.
Current treatment have limited effect
"GAD is perhaps the most co-morbid anxiety disorder at present, particularly among primary care patients," he said in an interview. "Current treatments, including pharmacotherapy and behavioural therapies, have had limited success and are characterised by notable drawbacks, including negative side effect profiles and expense."
Herring and his colleagues thought exercise could help GAD patients for several reasons, including the fact that physical activity helps ease anxiety in healthy people and that it's helpful for depression, which shares some genetic roots with GAD. To investigate, they randomly assigned 30 sedentary women with GAD who were receiving pharmacotherapy but no other treatment to one of two exercise groups or a wait-list control group.
Women in the resistance exercise training group performed two sessions of lower-body weight lifting each week for six weeks, doing seven sets of 10 repetitions of leg press, leg curl, and leg extensions. They started out at half of their maximum capacity and progressed by 5% each week. Women in the aerobic training group performed cycling twice a week to exercise the same part of the body for 16 minutes continuously, also for six weeks.
Clinicians blinded to patients' assignment assessed their GAD diagnosis using the Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule at one to 16 days after the intervention. The researchers also assessed worry symptoms at the study's outset and at two, four and six weeks into the intervention using the Penn State Worry Questionnaire.
Exercise have good results
Sixty-percent of the women in the resistance group, 40% in the aerobic training group, and 30% in the wait-list group had remission of their GAD, for a number needed to treat of 3.33 for resistance training and 10 for aerobic training. Worry symptoms at six weeks were significantly reduced in the combined exercise groups compared to the control group (p=0.039).
While the differences between the resistance and aerobic training groups weren't statistically significant, Herring suggested that if effects were truly larger for resistance exercise it could have been because the study participants perceived it to be more intense.
The researcher said he and his colleagues are now seeking funds to conduct larger trials of exercise for GAD. "There is a need to explore the effects of exercise training on other impairments associated with GAD including attentional bias and emotional deregulation," he added. - (Anne Harding/Reuters Health, June 2011)