Objective: The purpose of this study was to compare the therapeutic effect of exercise for patients with panic disorder to a drug treatment of proven efficacy and to placebo.
Method: Forty-six outpatients suffering from moderate to severe panic disorder with or without agoraphobia (DSM-III-R criteria) were randomly assigned to a 10-week treatment protocol of regular aerobic exercise (running), clomipramine (112.5 mg/day), or placebo pills.
Results: The dropout rate was 31% for the exercise group, 27% for the placebo group, and 0% for the clomipramine group. In comparison with placebo, both exercise and clomipramine led to a significant decrease in symptoms according to all main efficacy measures (analysis of variance, last-observation-carried-forward method and completer analysis). A direct comparison of exercise and clomipramine revealed that the drug treatment improved anxiety symptoms significantly earlier and more effectively. Depressive symptoms were also significantly improved by exercise and clomipramine treatment.
Conclusions: These results suggest that regular aerobic exercise alone, in comparison with placebo, is associated with significant clinical improvement in patients suffering from panic disorder, but that it is less effective than treatment with clomipramine.