Personal health journalist Paul R. Kopenkoskey has covered the research of SMU psychologist Dr. Jasper Smits for the online news site of the Grand Rapids Press. The Aug. 1 article, For Grand Rapids therapists, exercise and counseling promote well being, quotes Smits, an associate professor of psychology, on his research finding that high levels of physical activity can buffer against panic for those who are at risk.

People with an intense fear of the nausea, racing heart, dizziness, stomachaches and shortness of breath that accompany panic — known as “high anxiety sensitivity” — reacted with less anxiety to the study’s panic-inducing stressor if they had been engaging in high levels of physical activity.

“Anxiety sensitivity is an established risk factor for the development of panic and related disorders,” says Smits, lead author on the research. “This study suggests that this risk factor may be less influential among persons who routinely engage in high levels of physical activity.”

Read the full article.


Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Grand Rapids Press

Jasper Smits, associate professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and director of the school’s Anxiety Research & Treatment Program, said counseling combined with exercise is an alternative method whose time has come for those seeking relief from anxiety disorders, including shortness of breath, racing heart and dizziness, known as high-anxiety sensitivity.

“People are seeking an established intervention,” said Smits. “A lot of people like the idea of exercise. It’s kind of a mind and body approach that appeals to some people.”

Smits co-authored a book for an August release titled, “Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being” (Oxford University Press), which builds on earlier research that indicates exercise improves mood and reduces anxiety, working in a similar capacity to an antidepressant drug.

It’s written for people who are interested in step-by-step guidance on how to start and maintain an exercise program geared toward improving mood, with a particular emphasis on understanding the relationship between mood and motivation.

“We don’t argue for or against the use of physical activity over medication and cognitive therapy, and research doesn’t indicate one method is better than the other, but what we can say is there’s an approach that yields comparable results,” Smits said.

Read the full article.