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February 2012

Exercise May Relieve Anxiety Symptoms

Exercise may help relieve symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), according to a recent study.

Most people experience anxiety at some point in their lives and some nervousness in anticipation of a real situation. However, if a person cannot shake unwarranted worries, or if the feelings are jarring to the point of avoiding everyday activities, he or she most likely has an anxiety disorder. GAD is characterized by excessive, unrealistic worry that lasts six months or more. In adults, the anxiety may focus on issues such as health, money, or career. Physical symptoms may also appear such as nervousness or heart palpitations. GAD affects about 5% of Americans in the course of their lives and is more common in women than in men. Some experts believe that it is under diagnosed and more common than any other anxiety disorder. GAD usually begins in childhood and often becomes a chronic ailment, particularly when left untreated. Depression in adolescence may be a strong predictor of GAD in adulthood. Depression commonly accompanies this anxiety disorder.

In a new study, researchers examined the benefits of physical activity in a group of 30 inactive GAD patients between the ages of 18 and 37. The team randomly assigned these subjects to receive either resistance exercise training (RET), which involved lower-body weightlifting, or aerobic exercise training (AET), which involved cycling.

GAD remission rates were 60 percent for the RET group and 40 percent for the AET participants.

The scientists concluded that regular exercise may help reduce symptoms of distress and worry associated with GAD.

Many integrative therapies have been studied for their potential effects on anxiety. Human studies have found at least moderate benefit of kava in the treatment of anxiety, and early evidence suggests that kava may be as effective as benzodiazepine drugs such as diazepam (Valium®). Kava's effects were reported to be similar to the prescription drug buspirone (Buspar®) used for GAD in one study. However, there is concern regarding the potential danger from taking kava based on multiple reports from Europe and the United States that included hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver failure. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings to consumers and physicians. Many products have been pulled from the market. Natural Standard has collaborated with the World Health Organization (WHO) to prepare a detailed report of kava and associated adverse effects, which is now available.

For more information about integrative therapies for anxiety, please visit Natural Standard's Comparative Effectiveness Database.


  1. Herring MP, Jacob ML, Suveg C. Feasibility of exercise training for the short-term treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Psychother Psychosom. 2012;81(1):21-8. View Abstract
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine.
The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard Inc. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited.