Assessment of the influence of exercise on heart rate variability in anxiety patients.

OBJECTIVES: The aim of the study was to determine the status of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in anxiety disorder patients and to evaluate possible exercise intervention in order to improve the ANS and overall psychiatric status of patients.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: The ANS function was monitored via means of heart rate variability (HRV) changes during a 6-week hospitalization at the Psychiatric Clinic of University Hospital in Olomouc. The status of ANS was monitored by the new evaluation method of spectral analysis (SA) of HRV. The research involved 43 anxiety patients (29 women and 14 men) who underwent six weeks of intensive psychotherapy; part of the test group also participated in regular aerobic exercise.

RESULTS: In the sense of autonomic dysfunction we can not give clear-cut answers to the question whether the autonomic dysfunction could be one of the predictors of anxiety disorder, although our results suggest lower vagal representation in the spectra. Unlike in the healthy population the exercise had a positive impact only on a limited number of patients. Regular endurance exercise on a stationary bicycle had a positive impact on the ANS efficiency only in patients with primary ANS activity reduction. In patients with normal ANS efficiency the exercise intervention had no effect; in some cases we even found activity reduction during the hospitalization period. However, the exercise had a positive effect on the course and outcome of the applied therapy in all patients.

CONCLUSIONS: ANS disturbances have not been exhibited in some patients suffering from anxiety disorder. Due to the positive impact of regular physical activity on cardiovascular, metabolic, neural, and psychological changes in organism, monitored exercise should be implemented into therapeutic programs for patients with anxiety disorders.

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