Blumenthal’s study was not the only one to conclude that exercise can have a positive impact on mood. In a review of 11 studies that examined the effects of exercise on mental health, Boston University professor of psychology Michael Otto and his colleagues found that exercise could be a powerful tool when treating clinical depression, and even recommended clinicians include exercise as part of their treatment plans for depressed patients.
Antidote to anxiety
Some researchers, Otto included, have begun to examine the effects of exercise on treating and possibly preventing anxiety. The body’s nervous system responds quickly when people feel frightened or threatened, often causing the body’s heart rate to increase and sweating and dizziness to occur. Those people who are especially sensitive to anxiety respond to these feelings with fear, and that makes them more likely to develop panic disorders. But Otto and fellow researcher Jasper Smits of the Anxiety Research and Treatment Program at Southern Methodist University studied the effects that regular workouts might have on people prone to anxiety. Since exercise produces many of the same physical reactions, such as sweating and an elevated heart rate, the body produces when responding to fear or threats, Otto and Smits wanted to determine if exercise might help people prone to anxiety become less likely to panic when experiencing fear or threats. In studying 60 participants with heightened sensitivity to anxiety, Otto and Smits found that the subjects who participated in a two-week exercise program exhibited marked improvements in anxiety sensitivity compared to those participants who did not take part in the exercise program. Otto and Smith concluded that this improvement was a result of the exercise group participants learning to associate the symptoms common to both fear and exercise, such as sweating and an elevated heart rate, with something positive (exercise) instead of something negative (anxiety).