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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Reed, J., & Buck, S. (2009). The effect of regular aerobic exercise on positive-activated affect: A meta-analysis. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 10(6), 581–594.
- Thayer, R. E. (1996). The origin of every day moods: Managing energy, tension, and stress. New York: Oxford University Press.
- 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.