Anxiety Sensitivity: An Examination of its Relations to Physical Activity and Transdiagnostic Athlete Mental Health
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There is a growing body of research that examines anxiety sensitivity (i.e., fear of arousal-based sensations) and physical activity. This research has tended to show that individuals with higher levels of anxiety sensitivity engage in lower levels of physical activity. This relationship has important mental and physical health implications as both anxiety sensitivity and physical activity are associated with numerous health outcomes. Broadly, the purpose of this dissertation is to add to our understanding of the anxiety sensitivity–physical activity relationship. This dissertation achieves this aim across three studies. In Study 1, a meta-analysis was conducted to provide the best estimate of the magnitude of this relationship, given previous studies have reported mixed results. The meta-analysis of 43 studies showed that there is a significant and small inverse relationship between anxiety sensitivity and physical activity across the available literature. With Study 1 suggesting that anxiety sensitivity is a barrier to physical activity participation, Study 2 sought to determine if anxiety sensitivity may explain the concerning gender gap in physical activity levels. The results of Study 2 indicated that anxiety sensitivity is a partial contributor to gender differences in physical activity levels. With Study 1 and Study 2 establishing relationships between anxiety sensitivity and physical activity, Study 3 sought to determine if the transdiagnostic properties of anxiety sensitivity exist in a highly physically active sample of athletes. The results of this Study 3 suggest that anxiety sensitivity is a predictor of a variety of emotional disorder symptoms in athletes including symptoms of anxiety and depression. Overall, this series of studies adds to our understanding of the anxiety sensitivity– physical activity literature by clarifying the magnitude of this relationship, showing how anxiety sensitivity contributes to gaps in physical activity levels between gender groups, and indicating that the transdiagnostic properties of anxiety sensitivity persist in a highly physically active group of athletes.