Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Improves Exercise Tolerance in Sedentary Women

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Abstract

Purpose

To test the efficacy of an acute intervention derived from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for increasing high-intensity constant work rate (CWR) cycle exercise tolerance in a group of low-active women age 18–45 yr. The secondary goals were to examine whether ACT would reduce perceived effort and improve in-task affect during exercise and increase postexercise enjoyment.

Methods

In a randomized controlled trial, 39 women were randomized to either the experimental (using ACT-based cognitive techniques and listening to music during the CWR exercise tests) or a control group (listening to music during the CWR exercise tests). Before (CWR-1) and after the intervention (CWR-2), participants completed a CWR cycle exercise test at 80% of maximal incremental work rate (Wmax) until volitional exhaustion.

Results

On average, ACT (n = 18) and control (n = 21) groups were matched for age, body mass index, weekly leisure activity scores, and Wmax (all P > 0.05). Exercise tolerance time (ETT) increased by 15% from CWR-1 to CWR-2 for the ACT group (392.05 ± 146.4 vs 459.39 ± 209.3 s; mean ± SD) and decreased by 8% (384.71 ± 120.1 vs 353.86 ± 127.9 s) for the control group (P = 0.008). RPE were lower (e.g., by 1.5 Borg 6–20 scale units at 55% of ETT, P ≤ 0.01) during CWR-2 in the ACT versus that in the control group. By contrast, ACT had no effect on in-task affect. Exercise enjoyment was higher after CWR-2 in the ACT group versus that in the control group (P < 0.001).

Conclusions

An acute ACT intervention increased high-intensity ETT and postexercise enjoyment and reduced perceived effort in low-active women. Further investigations of ACT as an effective intervention for enhancing the established health benefits of high-intensity exercise need to be provided.

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