Purpose: Despite the well-known anxiolytic effect of acute exercise, it is unknown if anxiety reductions after acute exercise conditions survive in the face of a subsequently experienced arousing emotional exposure. The purpose of this study was to compare the effects of moderate-intensity cycle ergometer exercise to a seated rest control condition on state anxiety symptoms after exposure to a variety of highly arousing pleasant and unpleasant stimuli.
Methods: Thirty-seven healthy and normally physically active young adults completed two conditions on separate days: 1) 30 min of seated rest and 2) 30 min of moderate-intensity cycle ergometer exercise (RPE = 13; “somewhat hard”). After each condition, participants viewed 90 arousing pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral pictures from the International Affective Picture System for 30 min. State anxiety was measured before and 15 min after each condition, and again after exposure to the affective pictures.
Results: State anxiety significantly decreased from baseline to after the exercise and seated rest conditions (P = 0.003). After the emotional picture-viewing period, state anxiety significantly increased to baseline values after the seated rest condition (P = 0.001) but remained reduced after the exercise condition.
Conclusion: These findings suggest that the anxiolytic effects of acute exercise may be resistant to the potentially detrimental effects on mood after exposure to arousing emotional stimuli.