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Exercise Can Help Protect Against Future Emotional Stress

Exercise Can Help Protect Against Future Emotional Stress  Exercise may help people cope with anxiety and stress for an extended period of time after the workout, according to a new study.

Researchers compared how moderate intensity cycling for 30 minutes versus a 30-minute period of rest affected anxiety levels in a group of healthy college students.

Led by J. Carson Smith, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland, researchers assessed their state of anxiety before the period of activity or rest, 15 minutes after, and again after exposing them to a variety of highly arousing pleasant and unpleasant photographs, as well as neutral images.

At each point, participants answered 20 questions from the State-Trait Anxiety inventory, which is designed to assess different symptoms of anxiety.

Smith found that exercise and quiet rest were equally effective at reducing anxiety levels initially.

However, once they were emotionally stimulated by being shown 90 photographs for 20 minutes, the anxiety levels of those who had rested went back up to their initial levels, while those who had exercised maintained their reduced anxiety levels.

“While it is well-known that exercise improves mood, among other benefits, not as much is known about the potency of exercise’s impact on emotional state and whether these positive effects endure when we’re faced with everyday stressors once we leave the gym,” said Smith, whose previous research explores how exercise and physical activity affect brain function, aging and mental health.

“We found that exercise helps to buffer the effects of emotional exposure. If you exercise, you’ll not only reduce your anxiety, but you’ll be better able to maintain that reduced anxiety when confronted with emotional events.”

“The set of photographic stimuli we used from the International Affective Picture System database was designed to simulate the range of emotional events you might experience in daily life,” Smith said. The International Affective Picture System is a database of photographs used in emotion research.

“They represent pleasant emotional events, neutral events and unpleasant events or stimuli. These vary from pictures of babies, families, puppies and appetizing food items, to very neutral things like plates, cups, furniture and city landscapes, to very unpleasant images of violence, mutilations and other gruesome things.”

The study findings suggest that exercise may play an important role in helping people to better endure life’s daily anxieties and stressors, according to the researcher.

His study was published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Source: University of Maryland

Exercise Can Help Protect Against Future Emotional Stress

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Exercise Can Help Protect Against Future Emotional Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 14 Sep 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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