Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition worldwide. People with anxiety disorders experience persistent fear or worry that may start as feeling nervous but gets worse over time. Anxiety disorders may significantly impact day-to-day activities such as school, work, or family activities and can lead to relationship or financial strain. Symptoms of anxiety include restlessness, fatigue, irritability, poor sleep, or avoidance of certain situations. Anxiety disorders often co-exist with mood disorders such as depression, or with physical health complaints such as heart disease or diabetes.

How does exercise help with anxiety?

Although medication or psychological treatments are often successfully used to help people with anxiety disorders, regular physical activity or exercise provides many additional benefits such as:

  • A lower risk of developing anxiety disorders in the future;
  • A reduction in symptom severity;
  • Augmented benefits of other treatments;
  • Improved cardiovascular fitness

What type of exercise is best for anxiety?

The optimal dose of exercise, based on the frequency, intensity, time, and type (FITT) principles has yet to be confirmed. Most studies have shown positive benefits from moderate intensity aerobic exercise, but resistance training may also offer benefits for some people with anxiety disorders. In general, exercise programs should progress toward or meet the public health guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous intensity exercise accumulated across all or most days of the week. However, some key considerations for exercise prescription for people with anxiety disorders are outlined below:

  • To maximise engagement, exercise should be rewarding and enjoyable for the individual;
  • Consider the previous experience and personal preferences of the individual;
  • Use of a self-selected intensity, rather than a prescribed intensity may promote initiation and maintenance of exercise;
  • Seek advise from a health professional before commencing an exercise program to ensure the choices are right for you.

How do I get started?

Talk to your General Practitioner or other treating specialist about an exercise program that suits your personal preferences and circumstances. Alternatively, Accredited Exercise Physiologists, who are university-trained health professionals with expertise in the design and delivery of lifestyle interventions for people with chronic and complex conditions including anxiety, will be able to create an individualised exercise program that suits your needs. You may be able to claim a rebate from your health insurer for services provided by an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, or through Medicare if referred by your General Practitioner under a special referral plan.