Effects Of Exercise On Energy

For  more  than  100  years,  researchers  have  noted how exercise enhances the subjective sense of mental and physical energy. Affect refers to the quality of a subjective mental state along the dimensions of  valence  (pleasant  or  positive  vs.  unpleasant  or negative)  and  activation  (alert  or  activated  vs. sleepy  or  deactivated).  This  entry  will  summarize research related to the effects of exercise on affective states having positive valence and moderately high  levels  of  activation.  This  category  of  affective states describes a sense of energy and can be termed positive activated affect (PAA).

Improvements in post-exercise self-reported PAA occur for activities such as walking, jogging, swimming,  weight  training,  and  tai  chi,  and  a  recent study provides some support for a causal effect of exercise  on  PAA.  Published  meta-analyses  show medium  effect  sizes  for  aerobic  exercise  (0.47 for  acute  bouts  and  0.57  for  regular  participation).  Taken  together,  the  meta-analytical  results of acute and regular aerobic exercise indicate that self-reported PAA increases by about one half (.50) of a standard deviation from pre to post-exercise in  participants  who  performed  aerobic  exercise (experimental groups) compared to those who did not (control groups). Quantified another way, the meta-analytical  results  indicate  that  a  randomly chosen  person  from  the  population  who  recently finished an aerobic exercise session would be about 65%  to  70%  more  likely  to  report  higher  PAA compared to a randomly selected non-exerciser.

Several variables influence the size of the effect of  exercise  (in  particular  aerobic  exercise)  on post exercise  PAA.  Participants  with  lower  pre-exercise  PAA  often  report  greater  post exercise PAA, a finding in line with the idea that exercise can be a self-regulatory strategy to improve energy. Low and moderate intensity exercise appears best for  increasing  post exercise  PAA,  although  higher intensity  exercise  can  improve  post exercise  PAA after  a  short  delay,  especially  in  fit  individuals. Exercise  sessions  of  15  to  45  minutes  improve PAA,  but  durations  longer  than  60  minutes  may result  in  little  improvement.  PAA  typically  peaks within  5  minutes  after  exercise  and  remains  elevated  above  baseline  for  20  to  30  minutes.  This pattern of post exercise PAA change applies to typical  exercise  sessions  (low  to  moderate  intensity, 15  to  60  minutes),  but  not  to  extreme  bouts  like marathon. The motivational state of the exerciser may  be  another  variable  that  alters  the  effect  of exercise  on  PAA.  For  example,  participants  with a goal-oriented motivational state during exercise will  likely  report  lower  post-exercise  PAA  compared to participants in a less goal-oriented, more playful  motivational  state.  A  variable  that  does not appear to change the magnitude of the effect is the length of an exercise program. In other words, successive acute bouts simply restore post-exercise PAA from previous sessions without producing an additive effect over time providing further support for exercise as a self-regulatory method to improve energy.  Data  from  college  students  comprise  the majority of the study results and more information is needed on community and clinical samples.

Affect  during  exercise  is  related  to  exercise self-efficacy, exercise history, hydration and blood glucose  levels,  post exercise  affect,  and  exercise adherence. For example, higher PAA during exercise predicts exercise adherence. In line with pre-to-post exercise data, there is an inverse relationship between exercise intensity and affect during exercise. According to the dual-mode model, cognitive and physiological factors mutually influence affect during  exercise,  with  cognitive  factors  prominent at  lower  intensities  and  physiological  factors becoming more salient at high intensities. There is also evidence of a shift in attentional focus toward pleasant stimuli and away from unpleasant stimuli during  moderate-intensity  exercise.  As  a  result  of these interrelationships, PAA during exercise may provide  a  useful  method  of  monitoring  exercise intensity for the development of subjectively based exercise prescriptions. However, although the data show  that  exercise  improves  mental  well-being including a sense of energy, most people underestimate how much they might enjoy exercising and are  therefore  physically  inactive  in  part  because they anticipate a lack of benefit. This is an interesting inconsistency worthy of further study.


  1. Ekkekakis, P., Parfitt, G., & Petruzzello, S. J. (2011). The pleasure and displeasure people feel when they exercise at different intensities: Decennial update and progress towards a tripartite rationale for exercise intensity prescription. Sports Medicine, 41(8), 641–671.
  2. Legrand, F. D., & Thatcher, J. (2011). Acute mood responses to a 15-minute long walking session at self-selected intensity: Effects of an experimentally-induced telic or paratelic state. Emotion, 11(5), 1040–1045.
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  5. Wichers, M., Peeters, F., Rutten, B. P. F., Jacobs, N., Derom, C., Thiery, E., et al. (2012). A time-lagged momentary assessment study on daily life physical activity and affect. Health Psychology, 31(2), 135–144.

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