Background: Prospective cohorts have suggested that physical activity (PA) can decrease the risk of incident anxiety. However, no meta-analysis has been conducted.
Aims: To examine the prospective relationship between PA and incident anxiety and explore potential moderators.
Methods: Searches were conducted on major databases from inception to October 10, 2018 for prospective studies (at least 1 year of follow-up) that calculated the odds ratio (OR) of incident anxiety in people with high PA against people with low PA. Methodological quality was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale (NOS). A random-effects meta-analysis was conducted and heterogeneity was explored using subgroup and meta-regression analysis.
Results: Across 14 cohorts of 13 unique prospective studies (N = 75,831, median males = 50.1%) followed for 357,424 person-years, people with high self-reported PA (versus low PA) were at reduced odds of developing anxiety (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 0.74; 95% confidence level [95% CI] = 0.62, 0.88; crude OR = 0.80; 95% CI = 0.69, 0.92). High self-reported PA was protective against the emergence of agoraphobia (AOR = 0.42; 95% CI = 0.18, 0.98) and posttraumatic stress disorder (AOR = 0.57; 95% CI = 0.39, 0.85). The protective effects for anxiety were evident in Asia (AOR = 0.31; 95% CI = 0.10, 0.96) and Europe (AOR = 0.82; 95% CI = 0.69, 0.97); for children/adolescents (AOR = 0.52; 95% CI = 0.29, 0.90) and adults (AOR = 0.81; 95% CI = 0.69, 0.95). Results remained robust when adjusting for confounding factors. Overall study quality was moderate to high (mean NOS = 6.7 out of 9).
Conclusion: Evidence supports the notion that self-reported PA can confer protection against the emergence of anxiety regardless of demographic factors. In particular, higher PA levels protects from agoraphobia and posttraumatic disorder.
Keywords: agoraphobia; anxiety; exercise; incidence; meta-analysis; panic; physical activity; posttraumatic stress disorder; protection.
© 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.