What Explains How People Feel During and After Exercise?

We all know that exercising is good for us. Yet, few of us engage in regular exercise. One reason individuals may choose to exercise or to not to exercise is that an individual may feel good or bad during exercise. For example, the better someone feels during exercise, the more likely they are to exercise regularly.

In a recently published study from our lab we identified factors that help explain how people feel during and after exercise. Specifically, we had healthy young adults complete measures of anticipatory affect factors (affective attitudes, implicit associations, and affective associations), anticipated affect factors (anticipated regret, anticipated pride), and cognitive factors (self-efficacy, intentions). Anticipatory affect is the experience of pleasant or unpleasant feelings while thinking about or anticipating exercise. Anticipated affect is the expectation of how one will feel after completing an exercise session, such as anticipated pride or anticipated regret. Cognitive factors include self-efficacy (i.e., the belief that one is able to perform a specific behavior) and behavioral intentions (i.e., a belief about one’s readiness to perform a behavior). After completing measures, participants ran or walked for 20-minutes on a treadmill and answered questions on how they were feeling during and after the exercise.

We found that both regret and pride (anticipated affect) and anticipatory affect variables accounted for unique aspects of how people feel during and after exercise. Only anticipatory affect uniquely accounted for affective response immediately post-exercise. There were no associations between the affective and cognitive factors and affective response 5-10 minutes post-exercise. We also found that the associations between exercise self-efficacy and how people feel during exercise was due to the overlap that self-efficacy has with affective factors.

Overall, we found unique associations between affective, but not cognitive, factors and affective response to exercise. Findings from this study highlight the importance of considering multiple factors simultaneously to understand unique predictors to affective response. Future research should identify the extent to which these various factors overlap and the extent to which they are distinct.  Findings also suggest that it is possible that intervening on affective factors may result in improved affective response to exercise, which could increase exercise behavior. Future research should examine this possibility.

Sala, M., Baldwin, A. S., & Williams, D. M. (2016). Affective and cognitive predictors of affective response to exercise: Examining unique and overlapping variance. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 27, 1-8.

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