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Study: When those with a chronic illness exercise more, they worry less

February 22, 2010 |  1:00 pm

Life is full of worries. When you're battling a chronic illness, it seems almost impossible to escape nagging anxieties. When will I feel better? Will my condition worsen? When can I return to work or school?

But if you exercise regularly, you will likely feel much less anxious -- regardless of the status of your illness. In a study published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed data from 40 studies on how exercise affects anxiety. All of the 3,000 study participants were sedentary individuals who had chronic illnesses but were still able to exercise in sessions of at least 30 minutes.

Compared with similar individuals who did not exercise, the people who exercised had a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms. Exercise helped people no matter what kind of health problem they had: cancer, depression, heart disease, fibromyalgia. Multiple sclerosis was the only condition in which exercise did not appear to have a significant effect.

"We found that exercise seems to work with just about everybody under most situations," Pat O'Connor, a co-author of the paper and professor at the University of Georgia, said in a news release. "Exercise even helps people who are not very anxious to begin with become more calm."

Exercise is known to lessen the symptoms of depression, but there has been less attention paid to its effects on anxiety.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Francine Orr  /  Los Angeles Times