Find Your Exercise Bliss

Social anxiety may inhibit some people with mental illness from being physically active

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Everybody needs to exercise. But for some, social anxiety may be a barrier to exercise. There is an exercise activity out there for everyone. The key is finding what works for you.

A recent study surveyed a group of people, both with and without mental illness, about social anxiety associated with physical activity or sports.

The results of the study revealed that men and women with mental illness had greater levels of social anxiety when it came to physical activities than people without mental illness.

"Find a form of exercise you enjoy and stick with it."

Amber De Herdt, MSc, professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Physiotherapy, worked with a team of fellow professors at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, to investigate the role of social anxiety in exercise activities for people with mental illnesses.

Previous studies have shown the terrific health benefits of exercise and the harmful effects on health and well-being that come with a lack of exercise, according to the authors.

For this study, 693 men and women, recruited from 22 psychiatric hospitals all over Belgium, and 2,888 people without mental illness were surveyed with a Physical Activity and Sport Anxiety Scale (PASAS). All of the participants were between 18 and 65 years of age.

On average, the men with mental illness weighed around 3 lbs. more than men without mental illness. Women with mental illness weighed, on average, 6 lbs. more than women without mental illness.

In the group of people with mental illness, 19 percent had an anxiety disorder, 32 percent had mood disorder, 11 percent had eating disorders, 16 percent had a personality disorder and 22 percent had some type of substance abuse disorder.

The PASAS questionnaire is made up of 16 questions designed to asses how a person feels about social anxiety in relation to physical activity. Participants rate each question from 1 ("not at all characteristic of me") to 5 ("extremely characteristic of me").

Scores are added up at the end of the test, and range from 16 to 80. Low scores indicate lower levels of social anxiety in relation to physical activity.

On the PASAS scale, men with mental illness reported an average of 40 points on the scale of anxiety associated with physical activity compared to an average of 31 points for men without mental illness.

For women, those with mental illness reported an average score of 49 on the PASAS scale, compared to 37 points for women without mental illness.

The authors found that even after they made adjustments for gender, people with mental illness had higher levels of anxiety associated with physical activity than people without mental illness.

The authors pointed out some limitations to their study. One such limitation was that even though they matched up men and women with mental illness to those without mental illness, they did not equally match for body mass index (BMI) and age.

The authors noted that people with higher body mass indexes or older people may have had greater anxiety associated with physical activity.

The authors suggested that healthcare professionals measure social anxiety associated with physical activity in patients with mental illness, and use that information to help patients with sports related anxiety find a physical activity they can be comfortable with and enjoy.

This study was published in March in Depression and Anxiety.

The authors reported that no outside funding was used for this project. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 27, 2013
Last Updated:
August 15, 2013