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  • Should psychiatrists recommend exercise for anxiety disorders?














    Many studies show the mental health benefits of physical exercise. However, psychiatrists rarely recommend that their patients do it. Why is that? In an article in Medscape, Nancy A. Melville discussed recent findings.


    Melville wrote that recent findings indicated that psychiatrists who do not exercise are less likely to recommend that their patients do so. She found that psychiatrists who exercised with moderate intensity were less likely to recommend exercise than psychiatrists who engaged in rigorous exercise.  This might be due to psychiatrists often focusing on treating higher priority issues such as suicidality and issues related to hospitalization. This might be due to psychiatrists often having limited one on one time with each patient. This might also have to do with psychiatrists, like many other healthcare professionals, struggle with their own selfcare regimens. Nevertheless, psychiatric patients could likely benefit from exercise.


    Melville discussed a study examining the benefits of aerobic exercise and individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). In this study, 56 individuals were randomly assigned to either a weekly exercise group (treadmills, recumbent bicycles, and elliptical machines) or a weekly health education group. Individuals in the exercise group participated in workouts about 3 hours a week. Those in the exercise group ended the study with improved mood, decreased anxiety, and a decreased desire to engage in compulsion than those in the education group.


    Melville also discussed a study examining the relationship between exercise and anxiety sensitivity. Anxiety sensitivity can be described as the fear of experiencing anxiety, which is often a major component of anxiety disorders. In this study, 63 participants were assigned to three groups: a short-duration-high-intensity aerobic exercise group, a moderate-intensity-long-duration aerobic exercise group, and a wait-list control group. The findings showed that participants in both exercise groups saw benefits. Whereas the high intensity group saw decreases in anxiety sensitivity related to physical symptoms, the moderate intensity group saw decreases in anxiety sensitivity of social and cognitive concerns.


    It appears that not only does exercise improve symptoms of anxiety, but also specific workout regimens may be able to be prescribed for specific issues. Perhaps one day psychiatrists, and other healthcare professionals, might first prescribe an individual with OCD a few hours a week on the treadmill before exploring other options.

    Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA. He works in the Torrance office and is available for a free initial phone consultation. Dr. von Stietz works with individuals from Long Beach, the greater Los Angeles area, and the South Bay including Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, and El Segundo.