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Walking May Decrease Anxiety More Than Rigorous Exercise

November 18, 2016

By Rob Goodier

NEW YORK — Walking appears to have a bigger effect on anxiety than more rigorous exercise, according to a small randomized study.

"Walking, high-intensity interval training (and continuous aerobic exercise) all have positive effects on a range of mood measures and there was a tendency for the walking group to have the least anxiety after exercise of the three groups," Dr. Wendy Suzuki of New York University told Reuters Health by email.

The findings were presented November 16 at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego, California.

Dr. Suzuki and her colleagues assigned 41 healthy adults ages 18-26 to one of three types of exercise: a 44-minute session of either high-intensity interval training, continuous aerobic exercise on a treadmill, or walking as a control.

Evaluations before and after the session found that all three kinds of exercise were linked to significant decreases in mood disturbance, general negative affect and anxiety. They were also associated with increased happiness and empathy.

State-trait anxiety decreased significantly in all three groups as well, but with significant between-group differences favoring walking. In all three groups, anxiety changes correlated positively with the intensity of the workout as measured by the percentage of maximum oxygen uptake.

The researchers hypothesize that the more intense workouts caused fatigue that decreased the effect on anxiety.

This pilot study is a good start that raises questions, says Dr. Neha Gothe, a kinesiologist at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, who was not involved in the research.

For instance, the study has a small sample and it only includes young, healthy participants, so it is not known what effect walking versus interval training might have on older, less-active people. A future study could be designed with more diverse demographics, and it could put every participant through all three kinds of exercise to evaluate each, Dr. Gothe suggested.

Future research might also include data on the fitness of the participants, defined as a mix of genetics, diet and exercise habits, Dr. Gothe told Reuters Health by email.

"These are preliminary findings, but they address a key question about how different forms of exercise affect brain function. Future studies will allow us to get more and more specific about what kind of exercise and for how long will maximally effect your mood and stress levels but improve other aspects of brain function as well," Dr. Suzuki said.


Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting 2016.

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