DMV Fitness logo

A Study On The Effects Of Exercise on Anxiety

I’ve been doing a bit of internet searching and came across an interesting study. The research paper “Effects of exercise on symptoms of anxiety in primary care patients: A randomized controlled trial” in the Journal of Affective Disorders, caught my eye, as it’s a subject that I’m passionate about.

Journal of Affective Disorders

It’s not surprising that anxiety has become an increasingly large problem in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the complete upheaval that it’s caused. It’s perfectly understandable that when faced with great uncertainty that anxiety can creep in, and may even cause worse long-term issues than the virus itself.

Anxiety varies in severity from person to person, with a range of symptoms that are both physical and psychological. The main psychological symptoms include:

  • restlessness
  • a sense of dread
  • feeling constantly “on edge”
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability

Some symptoms may cause a person to withdraw from social contact to avoid feelings of worry and dread.

They may also find going to work difficult and stressful and might end up taking time off sick. These actions compound and increase worry even more and may attack self-esteem.

The physical symptoms of anxiety are even more numerous and can include:

  • dizziness
  • tiredness
  • a noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • muscle aches and tension
  • trembling or shaking
  • dry mouth
  • excessive sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • stomach ache
  • feeling sick
  • headache
  • pins and needles
  • difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia)

This recent study suggests that vigorous exercise should be used to treat people who are challenged with severe anxiety.

Researchers discovered that patients who took part in a 12-week group exercise programme with varying intensities of activity experienced a reduction in their anxiety symptoms.

“Circuit training, mixing both strength and cardio exercises, helped to ease feelings of anxiety by decreasing muscle tension and boosting endorphins”, they said.

The Swedish scientists studied 286 people suffering from chronic anxiety, with an average age of 39.

Participants were randomly given a programme of high or low-intensity workouts or were put in the control group that followed standard public advice on physical activity.

The majority of the participants in the groups went from moderate to high anxiety initially to a low anxiety level after 12-weeks of circuit training. Both groups had 60-minute structured training sessions three times a week.

The sessions consisted of a warm-up and were followed by circuit training involving 12 stations of cardio and strength training for 45 minutes, ending with a cool down and stretching.

The group that exercised at a moderate level aimed to reach about 60 percent of their maximum heart rate. The group that trained more intensively aimed for 75 percent of their maximum heart rate.

Malin Henriksson, a doctoral student at Gothenburg University in Sweden and one of the researchers, said: “There was a significant intensity trend for improvement — that is the more intensely they exercised, the more their anxiety symptoms improved.”

Admittedly, studies of this kind have limitations. The study relied on the use of self-rating measures, which can lead to inaccuracies and underestimation or overestimation of symptoms. This is acknowledged by the researchers, but it does show that there is a profound positive effect on anxiety levels when exercise is a structured part of our lives.

This paper concluded: “Exercise has few side effects, is inexpensive and overall beneficial for general somatic health.”

If you’re suffering from anxiety yourself and are looking to manage and transform it with a fitness programme then we offer a success session where we can work with you to design a programme that is tailored to your goals. Or if you’re not quite ready yet then why download our free ‘Mobility is Medicine’ ebook or try one of our beginner’s circuits in the ‘Train Along With DMC Fitness’ blog.

There are also other holistic routes to managing anxiety, including massage, meditation, and wearables like the Apollo Neuro. In my view, these aren’t as long-lasting as exercise though.

There’s always a route to manage anxiety more effectively. Hopefully falling in love with fitness will work for you.

“Strength for Life”



Davie McConnachie

Davie McConnachie is Scotland’s leading health and wellness coach, multi-award-winning gym owner, motivational speaker and the founder of DMC Fitness, a fitness education facility known as the premier choice for 1-2-1 personal training. He has inspired thousands of people to fall in love with fitness – his true purpose and mission in life.

Diving into the world of fitness and wellness has helped Davie to deal with his own trauma and inner demons. He, overcame many dark times using his own unique methods to continue his cycle of healing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *