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Bischoff, Sophie; Wieder, Gesine; Einsle, Franziska; Petzold, Moritz B.; Janssen, Christiane; Mumm, Jennifer L. M.; Wittchen, Hans-Ulrich; Fydrich, Thomas; Plag, Jens; StRöhle, Andreas (2018): Running for extinction? Aerobic exercise as an augmentation of exposure therapy in panic disorder with agoraphobia. In: Journal of Psychiatric Research, Vol. 101: pp. 34-41
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Exposure-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (eb-CBT) represents the most evidence-based psychotherapeutic approach in anxiety disorders. However, its efficacy may be limited by a delay in onset of action and a substantial number of patients does not respond sufficiently to treatment. In this context, aerobic exercise was found to be effective in reducing clinical anxiety as well as to improve (elements of) disorder-specific CBT in some mental disorders. We therefore investigated the effect of aerobic exercise supplementary to an eb-CBT in panic disorder and agoraphobia (PD/AG). 77 patients with PD/AG performed a 30 min treadmill task with moderate or low intensity (70% or 30% of the maximal oxygen uptake [VO2max]) prior to five exposure sessions within a standardized seven-week CBT. At baseline, after completing the treatment period (post) and six month after post (follow-up), several measures of (un)specific psychopathology (Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale [Ham-A], Mobility Inventory [MI], Panic and Agoraphobia Scale [PAS], Agoraphobic Cognitions Questionnaire [ACQ], Body Sensations Questionnaire [BSQ]) were established to assess for clinical changes. All patients experienced a significant improvement of symptoms from baseline to post (for all measures p < .001) but repeated-measures analyses of variance found a trend towards a significant time x group interaction in the Ham-A in favor for the moderate intense exercise group (f[1, 74] = 4.15, p = .045, alpha = .025). This trend, however, disappeared at follow-up since the low-intense exercise group further improved significantly in Ham-A after post. Our findings therefore might point to an accelerating effect of moderate-intense exercise within an exposure-based CBT for AG/PD.