Acute Aerobic Exercise Hastens Emotional Recovery From a Subsequent Stressor

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Objective: Despite findings that regular exercise is broadly associated with emotional well-being, more basic research is needed to deepen our understanding of the exercise and emotion connection. This paper examines how acute aerobic exercise in particular influences subjective emotional recovery from a subsequent stressor. Potential mediators and moderators, including level of physical fitness, attentional control, and perseverative negative thinking were explored. Method: All of the participants (n = 95) completed 3 laboratory visits, each including 1 of 3 activities (i.e., cycling, resting, stretching), tests of working memory and attentional control, and an experimental stressor. Self-reported rumination after the stressor and the experience of positive and negative emotions throughout the study were recorded. Results: In this within-subjects paradigm, as expected, higher rumination in response to the stressor predicted more persistent negative emotion afterward; this effect was attenuated only by prior acute aerobic exercise, in this case, cycling, both 5 min and 15 min poststressor. This effect was unrelated to physical fitness or cognitive performance. Physical fitness level did predict greater attentional control and the capacity to update working memory. Conclusion: Acute aerobic exercise may facilitate subjective emotional recovery from a subsequent stressor and improve emotional flexibility.

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