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Physical activity protects from incident anxiety: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Felipe B Schuch, Brendon Stubbs, Jacob Meyer, Andreas Heissel, Philipp Zech, Davy Vancampfort, Simon Rosenbaum, Jeroen Deenik, Joseph Firth, Philip B Ward, Andre F Carvalho, Sarah A Hiles

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)846-858
Number of pages13
JournalDepression and Anxiety
Issue number9
Early online date17 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


King's Authors


BACKGROUND: Prospective cohorts have suggested that physical activity (PA) can decrease the risk of incident anxiety. However, no meta-analysis has been conducted.

AIMS: To examine the prospective relationship between PA and incident anxiety and explore potential moderators.

METHODS: Searches were conducted on major databases from inception to October 10, 2018 for prospective studies (at least 1 year of follow-up) that calculated the odds ratio (OR) of incident anxiety in people with high PA against people with low PA. Methodological quality was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale (NOS). A random-effects meta-analysis was conducted and heterogeneity was explored using subgroup and meta-regression analysis.

RESULTS: Across 14 cohorts of 13 unique prospective studies (N = 75,831, median males = 50.1%) followed for 357,424 person-years, people with high self-reported PA (versus low PA) were at reduced odds of developing anxiety (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 0.74; 95% confidence level [95% CI] = 0.62, 0.88; crude OR = 0.80; 95% CI = 0.69, 0.92). High self-reported PA was protective against the emergence of agoraphobia (AOR = 0.42; 95% CI = 0.18, 0.98) and posttraumatic stress disorder (AOR = 0.57; 95% CI = 0.39, 0.85). The protective effects for anxiety were evident in Asia (AOR = 0.31; 95% CI = 0.10, 0.96) and Europe (AOR = 0.82; 95% CI = 0.69, 0.97); for children/adolescents (AOR = 0.52; 95% CI = 0.29, 0.90) and adults (AOR = 0.81; 95% CI = 0.69, 0.95). Results remained robust when adjusting for confounding factors. Overall study quality was moderate to high (mean NOS = 6.7 out of 9).

CONCLUSION: Evidence supports the notion that self-reported PA can confer protection against the emergence of anxiety regardless of demographic factors. In particular, higher PA levels protects from agoraphobia and posttraumatic disorder.

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