People With Anxiety Typically Engage in Less Physical Activity

According to a new study, those more sensitive to anxiety tend to be less physically active.

Based on the results published in Mental Health and Physical Exercise, there is a higher correlation between anxiety sensitivity and inactivity and the intensity of physical exercise.

The dread of anxiety-related physical symptoms, such as a racing heart or shortness of breath, is known as anxiety sensitivity. Even though the association between anxiety sensitivity and physical exercise has been the subject of several studies in the setting of anxiety disorders, the findings from earlier research have been contradictory.

Anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million people in the United States, or around 19.1%. The condition involves excessive concern that interferes with everyday activities and can bring physical signs like agitation, a tense or quickly exhausted sensation, trouble focusing, tight muscle tightness, or difficulties sleeping.

I have been studying anxiety sensitivity (the fear of arousal related sensations) for about 30 years.

- Sherry H. Stewart, study author

Stewart explains that the study has demonstrated that those with high anxiety sensitivity often use hazardous behaviors, such as substance use, for coping. Avoiding physical activity was one of the harmful habits that their earlier investigations had identified.

This may not be unexpected given that they dread the arousal symptoms that physical exercise causes, such as an elevated heart rate and perspiration, adds Stewart.

To determine if anxiety sensitivity corresponded to avoiding physical exercise and under what circumstances, the team conducted a meta-analysis of research.

The researchers searched nine major research databases for papers to perform their meta-analysis, a statistical technique that integrates the findings of several studies.

Studies must fulfill specific requirements to be included in the meta-analysis. For instance, they must use approved anxiety sensitivity tests and gauge physical activity. The 43 different research that made up the final analysis included 10,303 individuals.

Anxiety and physical activity

The meta-analysis found a small but substantial negative correlation between anxiety sensitivity and physical activity. Simply put, folks with higher anxiety sensitivity typically exercise less than those with lower anxiety sensitivity, who tend to be more physically active.

They discovered a strong and inverse relationship between physical exercise and cognitive issues. However, there was no discernible connection between social problems and physical activity.

Furthermore, the researchers discovered that the degree of physical activity influenced the strength of the association between anxiety sensitivity and physical activity. Walking and other low-intensity exercises had no discernible effects on the connection.

Nonetheless, the size of the unfavorable link grew with more significant physical activity intensity. This implies that those sensitive to worry may find it especially difficult to engage in more strenuous activities, such as strenuous exercise.

Stewart told PsyPost that the researchers discovered a substantial correlation between reduced physical activity engagement and anxiety sensitivity that collapsed across all studies in the literature.

Remembering that the study cannot prove causation due to its cross-sectional design is critical. Nonetheless, prior studies have demonstrated a reciprocal relationship: physical exercise can lessen anxiety sensitivity, while anxiety sensitivity might be hampered by physical activity.

Similarly, the study mainly focused on general physical activity levels and anxiety sensitivity. It did not explore additional psychological factors that may be at play.

Stewart concludes: "The next question to be addressed is whether this relationship is accounted by fear-mediated avoidance. In other words, are anxiety sensitive people's lower physical activity levels occurring because they fear the arousal sensations brought on by exercise?"

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