Cross Training: Weights, Cardio and Anxiety

State anxiety responses to 60 minutes of cross training. Hale BS, Koch KR, Raglin JS. Br J Sports Med. 2002 Apr;36(2):105-7. [free full text]

Significant reductions in state anxiety following bouts of aerobic exercise have been consistently noted, whereas changes are generally absent after acute resistance training. However, the influence of a single exercise session involving both modes on state anxiety has not been examined.
To address this, state anxiety responses to 60 minutes of cross training were examined in 16 collegiate athletes (12 women, four men). Each subject completed two cross training exercise sessions (30 minutes of resistance training, 30 minutes of bicycle ergometry) in which the order of the exercises was reversed, with a minimum of one week between sessions. Each exercise mode was completed at about 70% of maximum. State anxiety (SAI-Y1) was assessed five minutes before, and 0, 10, and 60 minutes after exercise.
Repeated measures analysis of variance showed a significant (p<0.05) main effect for time. However, the main effect for order and the order by time interaction were not significant. Post hoc analysis showed that state anxiety was reduced (p<0.05) from baseline (mean (SD) = 34.8 (7.9)) at 10 minutes (32.1 (7.5)) and 60 minutes (30.4 (5.9)) after exercise, but not at 0 minutes (33.8 (6.9)).
The results indicate that combined sessions of aerobic and resistance exercise are associated with reductions in state anxiety, and that the order in which the exercise is completed does not influence this response.

My comments:

I don’t think that this paper is particularly groundbreaking per se as I have seen a number of references to exercise, either weights or cardio (mostly cardio) decreasing anxiety or depression over the years. More recently I have been reading the benefits of meditation, particularly mindfulness or Vipassana meditation which is getting a lot of attention in Western psychological research with a number of demonstrated psychological benefits. Though I have played around with it, and I think it’s interesting to see how difficult it is to quiet one’s mind, I can’t say that I have noticed anything groundbreaking (yet). So I’m curious how the mental health benefits of meditation compare to that of general exercise, which also has the co-benefits of physical health; building muscle, bone mineral density, burning fat, improving cardiovascular health, and on and on and on.

Also I have been a critic of yoga in the past, which is supposed to have mental health benefits as well, this I hope because physically there isn’t really anything I think yoga offers that weight lifting and cardio doesn’t do better. Heck, Bikram yoga has to turn up their gym temperature to 105 degrees to get people to work up a sweat, while I keep mine at 72 and still need a fan pointing directly at me when doing speed intervals on my Stepmill to avoid overheating. As far as physical exercise and burning calories go, that’s what you call a clue. As for bone mineral density and muscle strength weights obviously win. So what about mental health? I have been telling people do weights hard, cardio hard, and if that doesn’t cover you then maybe meditate for 10 minutes after, and I expect your overall fitness will still be well ahead than equal time spent doing yoga.

That said this paper has quantified the anti-anxiety effects of cross training, 30 minutes of weights and 30 minutes of cardio as judged by the State Trait Anxiety Inventory for which anxiety decreased 12.4% 60 minutes after the exercise. Could be more as the rate still decreasing when last measured at 60 minutes. The authors of this study reported the effects were about the same as prior studies on aerobic exercise by itself. So I’ll be interested to how this compares to mindfulness and yoga. And where’s the sweet spot? I first got interested in mindfullness after reading Sam Harris’ Waking Up, and he said he would go on retreats where they would meditate up to 18 hours per day. I’m really not sure what you get out of meditation that’s worth that kind of time commitment and Sam’s obviously brilliant but didn’t really say. So whatever I see quantified I’ll try to compare it to equal time doing something else and with 18 hours there’s a lot else one can do. Harris’ book was still a great read though and speaking of spiritual awareness and Bikram, it seems guru’s overstepping their bounds isn’t so rare. Harris had a section in his book on it, and apparently Bikram is no exception with several counts of sexual assault and harassment currently pending against him. All of which puts a bit of a damper on reports of yoga leading to enlightenment. So I’m rambling, the take home of this study is cross training with 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weights decreases anxiety at least 12.4% 60 minutes after training in addition to the other musculoskeletal and cardiovascular benefits.

As always, if you have any further questions or need for clarifications, please don’t hesitate to ask. Being aware that some of my blog ideas are contentious and occasionally a bit out of the field of my expertise, I encourage my readers to come forth with any questions/comments that are of interest or concern. Your comments are valued and welcomed.

Chad Reilly is a licensed physical therapist, located in North Phoenix, practicing science based medicine with treatment protocols unique and effective enough to proudly serve patients from Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Chandler, Tempe, Peoria, and Glendale.

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