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Exercise Can Aid in Emotional Regulation

Exercise Can Aid in Emotional Regulation

New research shows that aerobic activity can help to regulate mood.

While the physical and stress-relieving benefits from the activity are well-documented, investigators wanted to assess the psychological impact of engaging in physical activity.

Investigators Emily E. Bernstein and Dr. Richard J. McNally of Harvard University tested how a short period of moderate exercise changed the way people reacted emotionally after exposure to an upsetting film clip.

The study, which appears in the journal Cognition and Emotion, demonstrates the positive impact of acute aerobic exercise on individuals experiencing emotion regulation difficulties.

The researchers surmised that although the stressor would evoke negative feelings in all participants, some would recover quicker than others, despite partaking in any form of exercise.

They also suggested that if an individual who struggled to emotionally regulate engaged in physical activity, they should recover faster than their counterpart who had not exercised.

The study was conducted on 80 participants (40 men and 40 women) and each was assigned to either an aerobic exercise or no exercise (stretching).

They were asked to complete an online survey to establish their emotional mood and then immediately instructed to either jog for 30 minutes, or stretch for 30 minutes.

They were subsequently asked to watch a sad scene from the film “The Champ.” The participants then completed a range of questionnaires and measures to determine their emotion regulation.

Finally, all participants were instructed to watch a brief, amusing clip from “When Harry Met Sally.”

As expected, participants who stated that there was nothing they could do to make themselves feel better reported that they felt greater feelings of sadness during the study.

One significant revelation was that participants who had completed 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise reported feeling less sadness by the end of the study, in comparison to individuals who had not exercised.

Therefore, exercise appears to help people overcome or compensate for initial difficulties. Specifically, researchers believe exercise helps people better use regulatory strategies along with goal-directed cognition and behavior.

Source: Taylor and Francis
Man exercising photo by shutterstock.

Exercise Can Aid in Emotional Regulation

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Exercise Can Aid in Emotional Regulation. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 11 Apr 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.