Publication: Physical Activity & Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies

Research Impact:  This manuscript reviews and synthesises the available epidemiological literature examining prospective associations of physical activity with anxiety outcomes. Findings were promising, as odds (OR, 95%CI) of elevated anxiety symptoms (0.8742, 0.7731–0.9886; n=9), incidence of any anxiety disorder (0.6626, 0.5337–0.8227; n=3), and incidence of generalised anxiety disorder specifically (0.5438, 0.3231–0.9153; n=3) were significantly lower after exposure to physical activity. Other anxiety disorders could not be meta-analysed separately as too few studies (i.e., ≥2) examined them.

Although promising, these findings are based on a relatively small body of literature. Consequently, there is currently insufficient quantitative evidence to justify firm conclusions regarding the protective effect of physical activity on anxiety. Future research would benefit from:

  • Corroborating self-reported physical activity exposure with device-based assessments, as all studies included in the review used self-report measures,
  • Examining whether associations are stronger with increased dose of physical activity,
  • Examining whether associations differ across domains of physical activity,
  • Utilising diagnoses of anxiety disorders as the outcome,
  • Examining children and young adults, as just three studies have focused on this population.


McDowell CP, Dishman RK, Gordon BR, Herring MP. Physical Activity and Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. American journal of preventive medicine. 2019;57(4):545-56.  DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2019.05.012

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