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Anxiety disorders and physical exercise

OBJECTIVE: Until the mid 90's, most of the studies on the anxiolytic effects of exercise were carried out through the evaluation of the anxiety state of young individuals. They were college students or athletes who might be considered pre-fit, thus limiting the validity of the conclusions as regards populations with pathological anxiety. The number of studies involving patients with anxiety disorder is increasing nowadays. Therefore, the objective of the study is to review the articles that discuss the influence of physical exercise on anxiety disorders. METHOD: We ran a MEDLINE search between 1966-1995 and 1996-2006 using the keywords anxiety, panic, phobic disorders, exercise, and physical fitness, in addition to the cross-reference of the articles selected and further analyses of bibliographical references on the topic. RESULTS: Our findings showed heterogeneous designs and methodological limitations. The latest publications are promising and point to the use of physical exercise as an aid to traditional therapies in the treatment of anxiety disorders. CONCLUSION: We observed that aerobic exercises below the lactate threshold might be the most adequate. However, they do not clarify the implications of anaerobic exercise, which suggests caution in the prescription of exercise, mainly the anaerobic kind, to individuals with pathologic anxiety.

Anxiety; Panic; Phobic disorders; Exercise; Physical fitness


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