An examination of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for people with anxiety and stress-related disorders: A meta-analysis

Psychiatry Res. 2017 Mar:249:102-108. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2016.12.020. Epub 2017 Jan 6.


The literature regarding exercise for people with established anxiety disorders is equivocal. To address this issue, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis investigating the benefits of exercise compared to usual treatment or control conditions in people with an anxiety and/or stress-related disorders. Major electronic databases were searched from inception until December/2015 and a random effect meta-analysis conducted. Altogether, six randomized control trials (RCTs) including 262 adults (exercise n=132, 34.74 [9.6] years; control n=130, 37.34 [10.0] years) were included. Exercise significantly decreased anxiety symptoms more than control conditions, with a moderate effect size (Standardized Mean Difference=-0.582, 95%CI -1.0 to -0.76, p=0.02). Our data suggest that exercise is effective in improving anxiety symptoms in people with a current diagnosis of anxiety and/ or stress-related disorders. Taken together with the wider benefits of exercise on wellbeing and cardiovascular health, these findings reinforce exercise as an important treatment option in people with anxiety/stress disorders.

Keywords: Anxiety; Exercise; Physical activity; Stress.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents