Meta-analysis of acute exercise effects on state anxiety: An update of randomized controlled trials over the past 25 years

Ipek Ensari, Tina A. Greenlee, Robert W. Motl, Steven J. Petruzzello

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background One prominent and well-cited meta-analysis published nearly 25 years ago reported that an acute or single bout of exercise reduced state anxiety by approximately standard deviation. We conducted a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) published after that meta-analysis for updating our understanding of the acute effects of exercise on state anxiety. Methods We searched PubMed, EBSCOHost, Medline, PsycINFO, ERIC, and ScienceDirect for RCTs of acute exercise and state anxiety as an outcome. There were 36 RCTs that met inclusion criteria and yielded data for effect size (ES) generation (Cohen's d). An overall ES was calculated using a random effects model and expressed as Hedge's g. Results The weighted mean ES was small (Hedge's g = 0.16, standard error (SE) = 0.06), but statistically significant (P < 0.05), and indicated that a single bout of exercise resulted in an improvement in state anxiety compared with control. The overall ES was heterogeneous and post hoc, exploratory analyses using both random- and fixed-effects models identified several variables as moderators including sample age, sex and health status, baseline activity levels, exercise intensity, modality and control condition, randomization, overall study quality, and the anxiety measure (P < 0.05). Conclusion The cumulative evidence from high quality studies indicates that acute bouts of exercise can yield a small reduction in state anxiety. The research is still plagued by floor effects associated with recruiting persons with normal or lower levels of state anxiety, and this should be overcome in subsequent trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)624-634
Number of pages11
JournalDepression and Anxiety
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015


  • acute
  • anxiety
  • exercise
  • mood
  • review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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