HomeFitnessWalking therapy – how a little exercise can be the best medicine...

Walking therapy – how a little exercise can be the best medicine to tackle anxiety in over-50s


Related stories


Anxiety disorders were named the world’s most common mental health condition recently by the WHO

Anxiety disorders were named the world’s most common mental health condition recently by the World Health Organisation.

A new University of Limerick study has found that even 50 minutes of brisk walking every week is linked to much lower odds of having Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

The debilitating condition is characterised by excessive and persistent anxiety and uncontrollable worry that occurs for at least six months.

The study examined the association between physical activity and Generalised Anxiety Disorder and worry across 10 years, using data from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda).

It found 47pc lower odds of GAD among older people taking part in 50 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, per week compared to people who are inactive.

At present, the World Health Organisation recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking or 75 minutes of running a week for adults.

Exercise psychologist Dr Matthew Herring, who headed up the study, said the message is that even lower levels than recommended reduce the odds of GAD and, overall, more physical activity is better.

“Though we are absolutely not advocating for lower or reduced activity levels, our findings suggest that compared to engaging in no activity, engaging in physical activity at a level below World Health Recommendations appears to offer protection against impaired mental health among older adults.

“Even minimal physical activity equivalent to 10 minutes per day for five days per week of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, may lower the risk of Generalised Anxiety Disorder over time among older adults,” said the director of the Exercise is Medicine Ireland National Centre at the University of Limerick.

The study said the distinction is particularly relevant among older adults who may feel discouraged at an inability to achieve guideline levels of exercise and subsequently engage in no activity.

“Public health organisations and clinicians should implement evidence-based strategies to promote these potentially more achievable doses of activity, particularly among currently inactive older adults, to lower odds of GAD over time,” said the study.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder is described as a debilitating chronic condition affecting between 2pc and 6pc of older adults.

In recent months, the WHO reported that anxiety disorders are the world’s most common mental disorders, affecting 301 million people in 2019. While everyone can feel anxious sometimes, people with anxiety disorders often experience fear and worry that is both intense and excessive.

The disorders can interfere with daily activities and can impair a person’s family, social, school or working life.

The UL study said recent international evidence has shown people recovering from Covid-19 show elevated rates of anxiety disorders.

“Coupled with an ageing population, GAD rates are therefore expected to rise, increasing the burden on healthcare systems,” the study said.​

It added that approximately 35pc to 50pc of people living with mental disorders in high-income countries receive no treatment. It noted traditional therapies can have negative side effects such as increased polypharmacy risk, have logistical barriers, and are only moderately effective.

Identification of potentially accessible and low-cost healthful behaviours that lessen risk factors for worry symptoms and GAD is “critically needed”, according to the authors.

They examined data from the Tilda study carried out on adults aged over 50 years in Ireland which included a questionnaire and a health assessment.

“To the authors’ knowledge, these findings are the first to both show a dose-response reduction in odds of Generalised Anxiety Disorder and identify the lowest dose for benefit that is lower than that recommended by current physical activity guidelines.”

- Never miss a story with notifications

- Gain full access to our premium content

- Browse free from up to 5 devices at once

Latest stories