People at risk for panic buffered from stressor by high levels of physical activity

July 14, 2011

Science Daily/Southern Methodist University

People at risk for experiencing panic attacks respond with less anxiety to a panic-inducing stressor if they have been regularly engaging in high levels of physical activity, suggests a new study. High levels of physical activity appeared to buffer against panic-inducing stress -- inhalation of carbon dioxide-enriched air -- among people typically afraid of the nausea, dizziness, racing heart and shortness of breath that characterize panic episodes, according to psychologists


"Anxiety sensitivity is an established risk factor for the development of panic and related disorders," said SMU psychologist Jasper Smits, lead author on the research. "This study suggests that this risk factor may be less influential among persons who routinely engage in high levels of physical activity."


Regular exercise as an alternative or complementary strategy to drugs and psychotherapy


There is already good evidence that exercise can be of help to people who suffer from depression and anxiety problems, say the researchers. "We're not suggesting, 'Exercise instead of pharmacotherapy or psychotherapy,'" Smits said. "Exercise is a useful alternative, particularly for those without access to traditional treatments. Primary care physicians already prescribe exercise for general health, so exercise may have the advantage of helping reach more people in need of treatment for depression and anxiety."

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