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Therapeutic effects of exercise


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Being sedentary causes a lot of health problems. Here's another study in that vein, this time showing exercise helps build resistance to panic and anxiety attacks. As usual, so as not to step on psychiatry's toes, the study allows medication may also be used -- but why start with medication when you can start with something that improves overall health?


High Levels Of Regular Physical Activity May Be A Useful Intervention To Prevent Panic And Related Disorders

13 Jul 2011


Regular exercise may be a useful strategy for helping prevent the development of panic and related disorders, a new study suggests.


People with an intense fear of the nausea, racing heart, dizziness, stomachaches and shortness of breath that accompany panic - known as "high anxiety sensitivity" - reacted with less anxiety to a panic-inducing stressor if they had been engaging in high levels of physical activity, said researchers at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and the University of Vermont in Burlington.


"Anxiety sensitivity is an established risk factor for the development of panic and related disorders," said SMU psychologist Jasper Smits, lead author on the research. "This study suggests that this risk factor may be less influential among persons who routinely engage in high levels of physical activity."


Regular exercise as an alternative or complementary strategy to drugs and psychotherapy


There is already good evidence that exercise can be of help to people who suffer from depression and anxiety problems, say the researchers.


"We're not suggesting, 'Exercise instead of pharmacotherapy or psychotherapy,'" Smits said. "Exercise is a useful alternative, particularly for those without access to traditional treatments. Primary care physicians already prescribe exercise for general health, so exercise may have the advantage of helping reach more people in need of treatment for depression and anxiety."


Smits reported the findings in "The Interplay Between Physical Activity and Anxiety Sensitivity in Fearful Responding to Carbon Dioxide Challenge," an article that has published online and is in press with the scientific journal Psychosomatic Medicine.


Co-authors include SMU psychology researchers Candyce Tart and David Rosenfield, and University of Vermont psychologist Michael Zvolensky.


New study adds to earlier research finding exercise reduces anxiety


The study builds on findings of earlier research, outlined in "Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven strategies for overcoming depression and enhancing well-being" (Oxford University Press, 2011) by psychologists Michael Otto and Jasper Smits. That research indicates exercise improves mood and reduces anxiety, working like "an antidepressant drug."


Also, a 2008 study by Smits, director of the SMU Anxiety Research & Treatment Program and associate professor in the SMU Psychology Department, and Otto, a professor in Boston University's Psychology Department, indicated that exercise can also reduce anxiety sensitivity. That research, combined with the new findings, indicates that exercise may be an effective strategy for the prevention and treatment of anxiety disorders.


"Exercise can be a powerful addition to the range of treatments for depression, anxiety and general stress," said Otto. "And when people exercise to feel good, they are also taking the exact steps they need to benefit their general health."


Those with high anxiety sensitivity have greater risk of an attack


Anxiety sensitivity is the extent to which individuals fear they will be harmed by anxiety-related bodily sensations such as a racing heart, dizziness and shortness of breath, say the authors.


Research shows that the higher a person's anxiety sensitivity, the greater their risk for developing panic attacks and related psychological disorders.


"For people who have high anxiety sensitivity, the symptoms of anxiety tend to signal threat," said Smits. "They worry, 'I'll have a panic attack,' 'I'll die,' 'I'll go crazy,' 'I'll lose control' or 'I'll make a fool of myself.' That's been widely studied as one of the risk factors for development of anxiety disorders, mostly panic. And it's a robust risk factor in that it's been replicated in several studies."


For the latest study, the researchers measured anxiety reactivity to a panic-related stressor, namely the inhalation of carbon dioxide-enriched air.


Study participants were 145 adult volunteers who had no history of panic attacks. After completing questionnaires measuring their physical activity and anxiety sensitivity, the participants inhaled a mixture of room air enriched with carbon dioxide, a benign procedure that typically induces a number of bodily sensations, including nausea, racing heart, dizziness, stomachaches and shortness of breath.


After inhalation, participants indicated their level of anxiety in reaction to the sensations.


The results showed that anxiety reactivity to the stressor was dampened among individuals who have been regularly engaging in high levels of physical activity.



Margaret Allen

Southern Methodist University


Article URL: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/231014.php

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

All postings © copyrighted.

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If you read the book: Spark it deals extensively with this.


Also years ago the US Government was looking for ways to treat anxiety and depression in military pilots - pilots were grounded when taking medications and that was a huge loss of personnel. Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D was in the US Air Force and discovered aerobic exercise could keep pilots flying without medication.

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  • 5 months later...
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Antidepressants are in the "Popular but less helpful" zone -- very mediocre.




This chart is based on 4,956 people with depression who participated in CureTogether surveys, compared to 944 people last year.


The top treatments are still exercise, sleep, and talking to others – they are popular and effective ways to feel better when you’re depressed.

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

All postings © copyrighted.

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Sleep used to be my cure-all. I would even call it "repairing permissions" (like you do on a computer)... I can tell a big difference in my mood if I got enough sleep. I'm only now really understanding the benefits of exercise and socialization, however. I mean, I always knew they helped, but since they involve a bit more of a delayed reward, I wasn't very good about being disciplined about it.

'94-'08 On/off ADs. Mostly Zoloft & Wellbutrin, but also Prozac, Celexa, Effexor, etc.
6/08 quit Z & W after tapering, awful anxiety 3 mos. later, reinstated.
11/10 CTed. Severe anxiety 3 mos. later & @ 8 mos. much worse (set off by metronidazole). Anxiety, depression, anhedonia, DP, DR, dizziness, severe insomnia, high serum AM cortisol, flu-like feelings, muscle discomfort.
9/11-9/12 Waves and windows of recovery.
10/12 Awful relapse, DP/DR. Hydrocortisone?
11/12 Improved fairly quickly even though relapse was one of worst waves ever.

1/13 Best I've ever felt.

3/13 A bit of a relapse... then faster and shorter waves and windows.

4/14 Have to watch out for triggers, but feel completely normal about 80% of the time.

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  • 2 years later...



I'm new to this forum, but would like to contribute.


This book scientifically proves what we all have known - exercise can be great for anxiety, depression and a healthy mind.


The book is called Spark by John Ratey.




Did you know you can beat stress, lift your mood, fight memory loss, sharpen your intellect, and function better than ever simply by elevating your heart rate and breaking a sweat? The evidence is incontrovertible: aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance.

In SPARK, John Ratey, MD embarks upon a fascinating journey through the mind-body connection, illustrating that exercise is truly our best defense against everything from depression to ADD to addiction to menopause to Alzheimer's. Filled with amazing case studies (such as the revolutionary fitness program in Naperville, Illinois, that has put the local school district of 19,000 kids first in the world of science test scores), SPARK is the first book to explore comprehensively the connection between exercise and the brain. It will change forever the way you think about your morning run.



Here is the audio book on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3F32JF4ycA


Hope this helps somebody out there.

Jan 2004 - 2008 25-50mg of Zoloft. 2008 - 2011 - Effexor ( sorry, forgot dosage)
March 2011 2 week taper and stop all meds.June 2011 start etizolum (3mg per day ) + mirtazapine 15mg
Sep. 2011 increase mirtazapine to 30mg per day , start cimbalta 20mg
2012 increase cymbalta to 40mg. Etizolam to 4-5 mg + add 5mg ambien
Aug 2012. Taper off ADs over 2 months. Stop. Taking 1mg etizolam and 5 mg ambien
May 2013. Start mirtapine 15 mg & cymbalta 20mg. Increase etizolum to 4-5mg
Jan 2014 double ADs.March 2014. Start 15mg of Valium to Stop alcohol . 2-3mg etizolum. Same ADs.
2weeks later stop etizolam and Valium . Stop ambien.

Currently I take 2 x 20mg cymbalta in the morning.

0.5mg of lorazepam 3 times a day - occasionally 5mg of Valium when I have an exceptionally bad night at home. April 22 take 1 epizolam.
2 x 15mg of mirtazapine in the evening.
Roserem 8mg sleeping tablet for one week. April 19 take Zopiclone instead. 20th half ambien (no sleep) April 21st Roserem. April22 half roserem.

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  • 10 months later...

I came here just now thinking we need a thread like this, and here it is.


Supplements can only do so much. In the end it is up to us to start doing the things we used to enjoy, or used to benefit from.


Are there people who have good exercise programs, who could tell me how they got started? What got them off the couch...


It must be a big part of recovery and health. I was athletic until my mid-20s and can't quite motivate to resume. I was on a team and had a bicycling buddy in youth. The socializing was half the fun. Come to think of it I have been adding pounds since then, and never thought about how active I used to be. I thought it was just aging.

2009: Cancer hospital said I had adjustment disorder because I thought they were doing it wrong. Their headshrinker prescribed Effexor, and my life set on a new course. I didn't know what was ahead, like a passenger on Disneyland's Matterhorn, smiling and waving as it climbs...clink, clink, clink.

2010: Post surgical accidental Effexor discontinuation by nurses, masked by intravenous Dilaudid. (The car is balanced at the top of the track.) I get home, pop a Vicodin, and ...

Whooosh...down, down, down, down, down...goes the trajectory of my life, up goes my mood and tendency to think everything is a good idea.
2012: After the bipolar jig was up, now a walking bag of unrelated symptoms, I went crazy on Daytrana (the Ritalin skin patch by Noven), because ADHD was a perfect fit for a bag of unrelated symptoms. I was prescribed Effexor for the nervousness of it, and things got neurological. An EEG showed enough activity to warrant an epilepsy diagnosis rather than non-epileptic ("psychogenic") seizures.

:o 2013-2014: Quit everything and got worse. I probably went through DAWS: dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome. I drank to not feel, but I felt a lot: dread, fear, regret, grief: an utter sense of total loss of everything worth breathing about, for almost two years.

I was not suicidal but I wanted to be dead, at least dead to the experience of my own brain and body.

2015: I  began to recover after adding virgin coconut oil and organic grass-fed fed butter to a cup of instant coffee in the morning.

I did it hoping for mental acuity and better memory. After ten days of that, I was much better, mood-wise. Approximately neutral.

And, I experienced drowsiness. I could sleep. Not exactly happy, I did 30 days on Wellbutrin, because it had done me no harm in the past. 

I don't have the DAWS mood or state of mind. It never feel like doing anything if it means standing up.

In fact, I don't especially like moving. I'm a brain with a beanbag body.   :unsure:

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  • 1 year later...
  • Moderator Emeritus

I came across this article and thought it fits nicely on this thread.




Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills:


In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.


I just started being able to do cardio again, so I'm reading more about exercise and its effects on the brain. Having spent 30 years on every type of psych drug out there - including antipsychotics - this article means there may be more hope than I thought. This is about fixing structural damage, not just functional damage. 


That being said, withdrawal can make this type of exercise impossible for a really long time, but it's still a good addition to other studies on neuroplasticity. 



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  • 9 months later...

Hi all, 


I have heard that many people have 'cured' their depression or perhaps stabilized themselves or felt slightly better after introducing exercise into their lives consistently. Has anyone had firsthand experience with this and would be kind enough to share their story?


I am thinking of using exercise as a way to help myself rather than medication. I am not consistently doing exercise, but when I do, I feel tired afterwards. I know that this is actually normal, since when you exercise, you feel tired and then you need to drink water and fuel up with some food to feel better. 




Prozac (20mg): Oct 2016 - Nov 2016 

Wellbutrin (200mg): Nov 2016 - May 2017 

Abilify (2mg): April 2017 - May 2017 

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I consistently go to the gym 3 days a week. I mainly lift weights and do some light cardio. Personally it makes me feel really good. If I'm having a bad day, then a good workout is a stress reliever for me. Would I say it could "cure" me? Unfortunately not. Lift my mood? Yes. I enjoy the physical benefits of being in shape. Stronger, more stamina, less fatigue, etc. That being said, no amount of exercise will magically get me off zoloft in a week or a month for that matter. I would like to think that moderate exercise keeps my central nervous system in shape so withdrawal is easier.

April 26th - 36.5>32.8mg Z.

Feb 4th - 40.5>36.5mg Zoloft.

Jan 5th - 45>40.5mg Zoloft.

Dec 6th - 50>45mg Zoloft.

Nov 1st - 53>50.0mg Zoloft. Sep 22/17 - 50.0>53.0mg Zoloft. Sep 18/17 - 59.0>50.0mg Zoloft.

Aug 7/17 - 65.6>59.0mg  July 18/17 - 72.9>65.6mg. June 18/17 - 81>72.9mg 

May 28/17 - 90>81mg.  May 8/17:  Started my taper. 100>90mg

1995 to May 8/17:  100mg Zoloft/day.  Working well but suspecting some signs of Tolerance this past year.

4/5/17:  Started Testosterone Replacement Therapy via T pellet insertion.  Diagnosed with Secondary Hypogonadism.

Supplements:  1000mg fish oil, 10,000iu Vit D3 with K2, 400mg Magnesium.

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There is a lot of evidence that shows that exercise works better than most antidepressants.  When I had my meltdown in 2013 one of the first things my counselor told me to do was to join a gym. My personal experience was that when I was at my peak of anxiety a few years ago, a good 30 minutes on the treadmill would "reset" my system and help turn off the constant anxiety for the evening. A tired body and the post workout shower were almost as effective as a Xanax. Exercise is something we all should be doing anyway and has no negatives other than time and possibly the cost of a gym membership.


If you feel too tired afterwards then start with a gentler workout and work your way up over time. I'm incredibly obese and out of shape and have noticed how quickly the body can increase its endurance in just a few months.

First panic attack 2/94. On Prozac for 6 months with no relief. Then switched to imipramine for 6 months. Started on 30mg Paxil in 12/97 for panic attacks and anxiety. Worked fine until 2/13. Dose increased to 40mg and anxiety and panic got worse. Started tapering from 40mg in 11/13. Currently at 10.9mg and feeling better. Intermittent Xanax use throughout.

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  • 2 years later...



Exercising definitely makes a difference, especially if you do it in the morning. On the days, my husband and I work out (at least 5 days/wk) we both feel better. Tired in the afternoon but more relaxed. In the last year I have come off two strong antidepressants ...Effexor & Mirtazapine.. Effexor was the worst to come off of...I thought I was going crazy and going to die. About a seven weeks ago I stopped Mirtazapine and went through hell for about a month. Mirtazapine made me so lethargic I didn’t exercise very much when I was on it, but recently I started back exercising more faithfully and each day I am feeling much better.  I started with early morning walks and have increased the exercises to at least 30 minutes of cardio most days with weight lifting at least twice a week.  If you are starting out I recommend walking in a park so that the walk is more back to nature and doing it for 10 to 15 minutes(breaks in between if needed) Slowly increase your time every week until you reach your goal. I am hoping that my exercising will help me through two other withdrawals that I plan to do over the next 8 weeks.  I hope this helps someone. My husband and I go to gym at the YMCA which also provides some social activity.

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