Hit the Gym or Mow the Lawn to Prevent Panic Attacks (Anxiety and Exercise)

Two Men Exercising Bodies on Hot Beach

Have you ever had a panic attack? If you have never experienced one, consider yourself lucky. Research on subjects prone to these attacks has found, from monitoring vital signs, that subtle physiological changes begin to occur up to an hour before the attack. So the finding indicates that panic attacks do not simply strike “out of the blue.” Could we learn how to anticipate them? And then to do anything to lessen their impact? Dogs have been trained to anticipate a master’s epileptic seizures. Could they be trained for this too?

The focus of a recent collaboration between University of Vermont and Southern Methodist University scientists was “high anxiety sensitivity.” This is described as an intense fear of the characteristic physical signs that tend to accompany a panic attack (racing pulse, sweating, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, and feelings of impending doom). The greater amount of this sensitivity a person exhibited, the greater the likelihood, in general, that he/she would develop a panic or other anxiety disorder. Thus, high anxiety sensitivity is established as a risk factor for panic disorder.

But there was one very interesting finding of the study: the participants with high anxiety sensitivity who engaged in exercise or other intense physical activity during a build-up period of these indicators handled the panic-inducing situation with significantly less anxiety than did their counterparts who were not physically active at the time. The researchers believe this finding implies that individuals who demonstrate this risk factor but who engage in rigorous exercise on a regular basis are greatly reducing their risk of panic disorder by the physical activity. So, to those of you who have experienced panic attacks: is this sufficient motivation to step up your exercise program?

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