Regular exercise can reduce anxiety symptoms in chronically ill patients, according to study findings published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Anxiety is characterized as a persistent unpleasant mood accompanied by thoughts of worry. When people experience chronic illness, the accompanying anxiety can become severe or recurrent enough to diminish their quality of life. The possible result? Patients may not stick to their prescribed treatments.

“Our findings add to the growing body of evidence that physical activities such as walking or weight lifting may turn out to be the best medicine that physicians can prescribe to help their patients feel less anxious,” said lead author Matthew Herring, a doctoral student in the department of kinesiology, part of the University of Georgia College (UGA) of Education.

According to a UGA news release, the researchers analyzed 40 random clinical trials involving about 3,000 patients with various medical conditions, including heart disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer and chronic arthritis pain.

Researchers found that patients reported a 20 percent reduction in feelings of worry, apprehension and nervousness as compared with those who didn’t exercise. In addition, results showed that exercise sessions lasting 30 minutes or longer were better at reducing anxiety.

Researchers were surprised to find that exercise programs lasting three to 12 weeks decreased anxiety better than those lasting longer than 12 weeks.

 “Our work supports the use of exercise to treat a variety of physical and mental health conditions, with less risk of adverse events than medication,” said Rod Dishman, PhD, a professor of kinesiology and the study’s coauthor.

Read how exercise can improve your overall health here.