TOKYO - A six-week exercise training program can help relieve the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, according to the first-ever trial to investigate whether physical activity helps patients with the condition.
Present treatments, including drug and behavioral therapies, show only limited success with the disorder, noted for chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension out of proportion to what provoked it -- or even if nothing did.
"Our findings suggest that exercise training is a feasible, safe and well-tolerated short-term treatment option," Matthew Herring of the University of South Carolina in Columbus, told Reuters Health.
"These findings warrant further investigation with larger trials."
Herring presented the findings last week at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine.
"Current treatments, including pharmacotherapy and behavioral therapies, have had limited success and are characterized by notable drawbacks, including negative side effect profiles, and expense," he added.
Herring and his colleagues thought exercise could help patients for several reasons, including that physical exercise helps ease anxiety in healthy people and that it's helpful for depression, which shares some genetic roots with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
To investigate, they randomly assigned 30 sedentary women with GAD who were receiving drug therapy but no other treatment to one of two exercise groups, or a wait-list control group.
One group was devoted to resistance training, with participants conducting 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 their maximum capacity and progressed by 5% each week.
The other group performed cycling twice a week to exercise the same part of the body for 16 minutes continuously, also for six weeks.
Clinicians who did not know which group the women had been assigned to assesses their GAD symptoms at one to 16 days after the intervention. They also assessed worry symptoms at the study's outset and at two, four and six weeks into the process.
Sixty percent of the women doing resistance exercises, 40% in the cycling group, and 30% in the control group had remission of their GAD, for a number needed to treat of 3.33 for resistance training and 10 for cycling.
Worry symptoms at six weeks were significantly reduced in the exercise groups compared to the control group.
Herring and his colleagues are now seeking funding for large trials of the study.
"There is a need to explore the effects of exercise training on other impairments of GAD," he said.