What to Expect When You’re Exercising: An Experimental Test of the Anticipated Affect–Exercise Relationship

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Abstract

Objective:Anticipated affect may influence exercise behavior via experienced affective responses and intentions. Cognitive manipulations of anticipated affect may inform exercise intervention design. The purpose of this study was to experimentally test the effects of an expectation-based manipulation of affective responses to exercise on anticipated, experienced, and remembered affect and adherence to a 7-day exercise prescription. Method: Participants (N = 98) were randomly assigned to a positive anticipated affect manipulation, a negative anticipated affect manipulation, or a no affect manipulation control. They reported anticipated, experienced, and remembered affect during and after a standardized 30-min bout of treadmill exercise at an intensity just below ventilatory threshold. Participants were asked to try to complete the prescribed exercise daily for 1 week. Differences in affect and exercise behavior were examined across conditions, as were relationships between affect measures, intentions and behavior. Results: The manipulation influenced anticipated and experienced affective responses, but not behavior. Participants generally expected exercise to be less pleasant and more fatiguing that it actually was. Anticipated, experienced, and remembered affect were associated with intentions to exercise. Intentions and remembered affect were both directly associated with exercise behavior. Conclusions: Moderate-to-vigorous exercise can be more pleasant than people expect it to be. Additionally, encouraging exercisers to focus on the positive affective outcomes of exercise can yield a more positive affective experience than those who focus on negative affective outcomes or do not focus on affective outcomes at all. The role of affect in both reflective and automatic motivation to exercise is discussed.

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