Emotional responsiveness after low- and moderate-intensity exercise and seated rest

CARSON SMITH, J.; O’CONNOR, PATRICK J.; CRABBE, JAMES B.; DISHMAN, ROD K.

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: July 2002 - Volume 34 - Issue 7 - pp 1158-1167
APPLIED SCIENCES: Psychobiology and Social Sciences

SMITH, J. C., P. J. O’CONNOR, J. B. CRABBE, and R. K. DISHMAN. Emotional responsiveness after low- and moderate-intensity exercise and seated rest. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 34, No. 7, pp. 1158–1167, 2002.

Purpose: Few experiments have been conducted regarding the effects of exercise on emotional responsiveness. The aim of this experiment was to determine whether anxiety-reducing conditions of low- and moderate-intensity cycling exercise lead to changes in emotional responsiveness to pictures designed to elicit pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant emotions.

Methods: 24 healthy college women completed counterbalanced conditions of 25 min of low- and moderate-intensity cycling exercise and seated rest. Indices of emotional responsiveness, including the acoustic startle eyeblink and corrugator supercilii responses, as well as baseline corrugator supercilii electromyographic (EMG) activity, were measured immediately before and 20 min after each condition while participants viewed pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant pictures from the International Affective Picture System.

Results: State anxiety was significantly reduced 20 min after each condition. Startle response magnitude was modulated by the affective content of the pictures and was reduced after each condition in response to each type of picture. Baseline corrugator EMG activity did not change after seated rest but decreased in an exercise intensity–dependent fashion after cycling. Corrugator EMG responses during the pictures were not different between conditions or from pre- to post-conditions.

Conclusion: The findings suggest that cycling exercise results in decreased baseline activity of facial muscles involved in the expression of emotion but does not lead to changes in appetitive or defensive responses to emotional stimuli. Furthermore, anxiolytic conditions of low- and moderate-intensity cycling exercise and seated rest are related to decreased startle magnitude in healthy college women.

Department of Exercise Science, University of Georgia, Athens, GA

Submitted for publication May 2001.

Accepted for publication February 2002.

©2002The American College of Sports Medicine