Clinical and neurobiological effects of aerobic exercise in dental phobia: A randomized controlled trial

Depress Anxiety. 2017 Nov;34(11):1040-1048. doi: 10.1002/da.22659. Epub 2017 May 26.


Background: Physical activity has shown to be effective in anxiety disorders. For specific phobia, no studies are available that systematically examined the effects of an aerobic exercise intervention on phobic fear within a randomized-controlled design. Therefore, we investigated the acute effect of a standardized aerobic training on clinical symptoms of dental phobia as well as on stress-related neurobiological markers.

Methods: Within a crossover design, 30 patients with dental phobia (mean age: 34.1 years; mean score of the Dental Anxiety Scale: 18.8) underwent two minor dental interventions separated by 7 days. Dental treatment was performed after 30 min of physical activity at either 20% VO2 max (control) or 70% VO2 max (intervention), respectively. To control for habituation, patients were randomly assigned to one of the two conditions prior to the first intervention. Moreover, saliva samples were collected at five times in order to determine changes in salivary cortisol (sC) and alpha-amylase (sAA) due to treatment.

Results: In comparison to baseline, aerobic exercise within 70% VO2 max significantly reduced clinical anxiety and sC concentrations before, during, and after the dental treatment. In contrast, the control condition led to decreased sAA levels at different time points of measurement. Habituation occurred at the second study day, independent of the order.

Conclusions: Our study provides evidence for an effect of moderate-intense exercise on clinical symptoms and sC in patients with dental phobia. Therefore, acute aerobic exercise might be a simple and low-cost intervention to reduce disorder-specific phobic fear.

Keywords: alpha-amylase; anxiety/anxiety disorders; clinical trials; cortisol; exercise; phobia/phobic disorders.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dental Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Dental Anxiety / psychology
  • Dental Anxiety / therapy*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Fear / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Visual Analog Scale
  • Young Adult
  • alpha-Amylases / blood*


  • alpha-Amylases
  • Hydrocortisone