Objective: Physical activity may confer protective effects in the development of anxiety and its disorders. These effects may be particularly strong among individuals who have elevated levels of anxiety sensitivity (AS; i.e., the fear of somatic arousal), an established cognitive-based risk factor for anxiety and its disorders. The present study performed a laboratory test of the interplay between physical activity and AS.
Methods: The participants were adults free of Axis I psychopathology (n = 145) who completed measures of physical activity and AS before undergoing a recurrent 20% carbon dioxide-enriched air (CO2) challenge.
Results: Consistent with the hypothesis, physical activity was significantly related to CO2 challenge reactivity among persons with elevated levels of AS, at high levels of physical activity (p <.001) but not at low levels of physical activity (p =.90). Also consistent with hypothesis, irrespective of the level of physical activity, physical activity did not relate significantly to CO2 challenge reactivity among persons with normative levels of AS (p =.28).
Conclusions: These findings provide novel empirical insight into the role that physical activity may play in terms of resiliency for the development of anxiety disorders. Specifically, the protective effects of physical activity may only be evident at higher doses and among persons who are at increased risk of developing anxiety disorders because they have elevated AS.
OR = odds ratio; AS = anxiety sensitivity; CO2 = carbon dioxide; SCID-NP = Structured Clinical Interview for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition-Non-patient Edition; EHS = Exercise Health Survey; ASI = Anxiety Sensitivity Index; SUDS = Subjective Units of Distress Scale; MLM = multilevel mixed-effects regression analysis; PA = physical activity