Panic attacks can be stalled by engaging in intense physical activity. Researchers have found people prone to panicking are relatively more composed if they have been doing regular exercises.
Such people generally experience an intense fear of the nausea, racing heart, dizziness, stomachaches and shortness of breath. The phenomenon is known as high anxiety sensitivity.
AdvertisementBut in a US study, it was found that those suffering from such sensitivity reacted with less anxiety to a panic-inducing stressor if they had been engaging in high levels of physical activity.
"While anxiety sensitivity is an established risk factor for the development of panic and related disorders, our study suggests that this risk factor may be less influential among persons who routinely engage in high levels of physical activity," said lead author Jasper Smits, a psychologist with the Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The study was done in collaboration with the University of Vermont in Burlington.
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."
Research shows that the higher a person's anxiety sensitivity, the greater their risk for developing panic attacks and related psychological disorders.
"For people who have high anxiety sensitivity, the symptoms of anxiety tend to signal threat," said Smits. "They worry, 'I'll have a panic attack,' 'I'll die,' 'I'll go crazy,' 'I'll lose control' or 'I'll make a fool of myself.' That's been widely studied as one of the risk factors for development of anxiety disorders, mostly panic. And it's a robust risk factor in that it's been replicated in several studies."
For the latest study, the researchers measured anxiety reactivity to a panic-related stressor, namely the inhalation of carbon dioxide-enriched air.
The study builds on findings of earlier research,that show exercise improves mood and reduces anxiety, working like "an antidepressant drug."
The participants were 145 adult volunteers who had no history of panic attacks. After completing questionnaires measuring their physical activity and anxiety sensitivity, the participants inhaled a mixture of room air enriched with carbon dioxide, a benign procedure that typically induces a number of bodily sensations, including nausea, racing heart, dizziness, stomachaches and shortness of breath.
After inhalation, participants indicated their level of anxiety in reaction to the sensations.
The results showed that anxiety reactivity to the stressor was dampened among individuals who have been regularly engaging in high levels of physical activity
Smits reported the findings in "The Interplay Between Physical Activity and Anxiety Sensitivity in Fearful Responding to Carbon Dioxide Challenge," an article that has published online and is in press with the scientific journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
"Exercise can be a powerful addition to the range of treatments for depression, anxiety and general stress," said Michael Otto, a professor in Boston University's Psychology Department and who had collaborated with Smits earlier. "And when people exercise to feel good, they are also taking the exact steps they need to benefit their general health."