Can a Single Bout of Aerobic Exercise Reduce Anxiety Sensitivity? A Randomized Controlled Trial
LeBouthillier, Daniel Marc
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A growing body of research supports the benefits of exercise for a variety of mental disorders, including anxiety. Several mechanisms have been posited for the anxiolytic effects of exercise, including reductions in anxiety sensitivity (i.e., fear of arousalrelated sensations, based on the beliefs that these sensations may have harmful or negative consequences) through exposure to these feared bodily sensations. Studies on aerobic exercise lend support to this hypothesis; however, research comparing exercise to placebo controls and evidence for the dose-response relationship between exercise and reductions in anxiety sensitivity are lacking. The present trial was designed to investigate reductions in anxiety sensitivity following a single session of exercise. A total of 41 participants were randomized to complete either a 20-minute session of aerobic exercise or a placebo stretching control. Anxiety sensitivity was measured at baseline, immediately post-intervention, and at approximately 3-day and 7-day followup using the Anxiety Sensitivity Index-3 (ASI-3). Individuals in the aerobic exercise group experienced significant decreases in ASI-3 Total and on the Cognitive Concerns and Social Concerns dimensions from baseline to 3-day follow-up and on all four dimensions of anxiety sensitivity at 7-day follow-up. Individuals in the control group had increases in ASI-3 Total and Social Concerns scores from baseline to posttreatment, 3-day follow-up, and 7-day follow-up. Clinically significant change in ASI-3 Total scores was observed in several individuals in the aerobic exercise group, but not in the control group. The present trial included individuals with a wide range of anxiety sensitivity severity and the results suggest that reductions in anxiety sensitivity following aerobic exercise are not exclusive to individuals with high levels of the trait. Additionally, the magnitude of reduction in anxiety sensitivity did not vary according to individuals’ level of the trait at baseline. The results of the present trial have important implications for aerobic exercise as a potential adjunct to or temporary substitute for psychotherapy aimed at reducing anxiety.