Effects of Emotional Exposure on State Anxiety after Acute Exercise

Department of Kinesiology, University of Maryland, 2351 SPH Building, College Park, MD, 20742-2611, USA.
Medicine and science in sports and exercise (Impact Factor: 3.98). 08/2012; 45(2). DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31826d5ce5
Source: PubMed


Despite the well-known anxiolytic effect of acute exercise, it is unknown if anxiety reductions after acute exercise conditions survive in the face of a subsequently experienced arousing emotional exposure. The purpose of this study was to compare the effects of moderate-intensity cycle ergometer exercise to a seated rest control condition on state anxiety symptoms after exposure to a variety of highly arousing pleasant and unpleasant stimuli.

Thirty-seven healthy and normally physically active young adults completed two conditions on separate days: 1) 30 min of seated rest and 2) 30 min of moderate-intensity cycle ergometer exercise (RPE = 13; "somewhat hard"). After each condition, participants viewed 90 arousing pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral pictures from the International Affective Picture System for 30 min. State anxiety was measured before and 15 min after each condition, and again after exposure to the affective pictures.

State anxiety significantly decreased from baseline to after the exercise and seated rest conditions (P = 0.003). After the emotional picture-viewing period, state anxiety significantly increased to baseline values after the seated rest condition (P = 0.001) but remained reduced after the exercise condition.

These findings suggest that the anxiolytic effects of acute exercise may be resistant to the potentially detrimental effects on mood after exposure to arousing emotional stimuli.

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    ABSTRACT: 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 ¼ 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. 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. 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). 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. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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