J. Carson Smith of the University of Maryland School of Public Health compared how moderate intensity cycling versus a period of quiet rest -- both for 30 minutes -- affected anxiety levels in a group of healthy college students.
Smith and colleagues assessed their anxiety state before the period of activity or rest, 15 minutes after and after exposing them to a variety of highly arousing pleasant and unpleasant photographs, as well as neutral images.
At each point, study participants answered 20 questions from the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, which is designed to assess different symptoms of anxiety.
The study, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, found exercise and quiet rest were equally effective at reducing anxiety levels initially. However, once they were emotionally stimulated by being shown 90 photographs used in emotion research for about 20 minutes, the anxiety levels of those who rested went back up to their initial levels, while those who had exercised maintained their reduced anxiety levels, the study said.
"We found that exercise helps to buffer the effects of emotional exposure," Smith said in a statement. "If you exercise, you'll not only reduce your anxiety, but you'll be better able to maintain that reduced anxiety when confronted with emotional events."