Study suggests exercise helps anxiety
Published: Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
Haley Cooper, a senior at SMU, started getting night terrors when she was 8 years old. Those night terrors soon lead to problems with anxiety plus the occasional panic attack.
Cooper says she is still affected by her anxiety today but she uses exercise as a way to distract herself when she is stressed.
"Exercise is great to relieve or distract me when I'm stressed, it keeps my mind off anxiety and passes the time so I move past it," she said.
Studies have shown that exercise has a similar effect on the body as an anti-depressant. Not only does it produce endorphins, exercise also helps improve high blood pressure, and can help prevent diabetes and arthritis.
A recent study, conducted by a team of researchers, including Jasper Smits, SMU psychologist and lead researcher, suggests that exercise may also help people with anxiety and panic attacks.
"If people exercise repeatedly they find that the sensations they were afraid of are benign. Exercise can help them overcome those panics," Smits said.
He believes that a lot of people experience panic attacks occasionally.
Panic attacks and anxiety are caused by two main factors.
The first is biological factors, such as the fact that some people have a more sensitive alarm system and secondly, psychological factors, the way people fear bodily sensations or the panic itself, Smits said.
In his research on exercise and panic attacks, Smits and his team had a group of students who suffer from panic attacks participate in two weeks of regular exercise, three days a week.
They found that the students were afraid of the sensations associated with exercise because they are similar to those connected with panic attacks.
"When you get on a treadmill you experience the symptoms that people with panic attacks experience," Smits said, "And when they learn they are safe they begin to overcome panic disorder."
However, Smits says that the research is still relatively new and although it does not prove that exercise cures panic disorders, it suggests that regular exercise may help reduce anxiety.
For more information on Smits and his teams research, visit the SMU Research website at blog.smu.edu/research. Smits is also co-author of the book "Exercise for Mood and Anxiety," which deals more closely with improving your mood through exercise.