The impact of physical activity on mood

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It has been widely proposed that there is a relationship between physical activity and mental health, and that physical exercise is associated with improving mental health states. (Hale and Raglin, 2002; Berger and Owen, 1998; McGowan and Talton, 1996; Di Lorenzo, Bargman, Stuck-Ropp, Brassington, Frensch and LaFontaine, 1999; Osei-Tutu and Campagna, 2004 and Biddle, 2000). Biddle, Fox and Boucher (2000), state that those people who live a sedentary lifestyle are twice as likely to suffer serious disease and health problems, including mental health problems, than those who take part in some form of physical activity.

In 1992 it was reported by the Home Office of Health and Economics that the cost of treating mental health illnesses, including mood, has mounted up to five billion a year. It is a common assumption that a healthy being is a physically active and functioning individual however this is not always the case. Many people may be physically healthy, but they may not be mentally well. Mental health, described by the Health Development Agency (HDA); (Formerly the HEA 1997), is the emotional and spiritual resistance which enables us to enjoy life and to survive pain, disappointment and sadness.

It is a positive sense of well being and an underlying belief in our on and others dignity and worth. This essay will aim to look at the evidence produced concerning the effect physical activity has on mood and the possible mechanisms responsible for this. To do this it is imperative to look firstly at what mood is, and how it can be affected, with specific reference to suggested mechanisms which effect mood.

This essay will also provide an overview of the evidence which is available to support the use of physical activity and its relationship with improving mood, with a critique of the studies completed and any recommended improvement which could be used to strengthen the support of physical activity. The chambers Dictionary (1998) defines mood as “a manner of action or a state of being” however Cox (2002, p190) defines mood as “A situation specific, somewhat transient, psychological response to an environmental stimulus.

What can be concluded from these two definitions is that mood is transient, fluctuating and changes regularly from negative to positive or vice versa. Mood is a state of mind that can last for a range of time from just a few minutes and hours to a more clinical period of time which may last from a few months to a year. Mood can change due to a series of stimulus, which if identified, can lead to the individual living a much healthier life. Mood is generally measured by the Profile of Mood States (POMS) which is a very popular scheme.

This is supported by Cox (2002, p178) who states that “POMS is by far the most commonly used instrument for measuring mood states”. POMS was first created by McNair, Lorr and Droppleman (1971) and it is made up of 65 items that measure six different moods states. The six moods states that are measured are, tension, depression, anger, vigour, fatigue and confusion. Five of the mood states measured are viewed as negative moods with ‘vigour’ being the only state which is viewed as positive.

Once mood has been assessed and the results calculated, a typical POMS graph, for people who exercise regularly, should have higher levels of vigour than any other mood state and this is known as the ‘Iceberg profile’. People who lead a sedentary lifestyle will have a more even profile, because vigour is at a similar level to all the other mood states. A common critique of POMS is that it mostly looks at negative mood states while other mood measurement techniques look at more positive states.

On the other hand, Berger and Owen (1998) explain that POMS is an accurate measurement of mood because it is sensitive to small fluctuations of mood which other mood models may not pick up. It is clear that physical activity can be used in conjunction with other methods to help improve mood and there are many benefits to this ‘treatment’. Physical activity is cheap compared to other forms of treatment, there are no real side effects if it is administered correctly and most importantly it can be self sustained and maintained across a person’s full life cycle, which is most certainly beneficial to the person’s future health.

However, there is no specific guidelines to say that to improve mood you are required to run, jog, skip or swim a certain distance for a certain duration of time, at a specific intensity. Many studies have been completed which provide a clearer understanding of which types of activities are most beneficial to enhancing mood and the best intensity and duration these activities should be completed at. Osei-tutu and Campagna (2004) completed a study comparing the effect of long and short bout exercise on mood.

The study comprised of three different study groups, long bout (LB), short bout (SB) and a sedentary control group (CTL). All the subjects used in the study were defined as sedentary, as they had not completed regularly in physical activity, 3 x 20 minutes per week, in over six months. Both LB and SB study groups completed a training regime which consisted of 30 min of walking on 5 days of the week for 8 weeks. Subjects were requested to keep their heart rate at a constant level, 60-79% of their maximum heart rate.

The LB study group completed the 30 minutes of exercise in one single bout at a time of their choice, opposed to the SB study group who were required to complete duration of the exercise in three 10 minute bouts which were separated with an interval of ? 2 hours. Mood was measured using POMS and pre-, mid- and post mood was assessed after the exercise sessions on weeks 4 and 8. The results gained from the study completed by Osei-tutu and Campagna (2004) are shown in appendix 1. These show that overall physical activity does help improve mood states.

Osei-tutu and Campagna (2004) claim that, on the whole, LB and SB exercise brings a significant decrease (P ? 0. 01) in total mood disturbance. Appendix 1 also shows that LB exercise is slightly more beneficial than SB exercise, however it can also be viewed that leading a sedentary life style does not improve mood states. With comparison to the base line scores which were gathered at the start of the study, post mood scores in the LB exercise group show the most significant change, (P ? 0. 05. In spite of this, these results alone do not simply prove that LB exercise is more beneficial because the chart takes into account all of the 6 mood states measured and totals the scores together. Appendix 2 provides more accurate information as it simply analyses the effect exercise has on vigour, the only positive mood state taken into consideration in POMS. Appendix 2 shows that LB exercise significantly improves vigour and that in turn, with consideration to the iceberg profile; means that ones mood state has improved and became more positive.

It is evident to see that completing an activity continuously for 30 minutes does improve vigour a great deal more than completing physical activity for 30 minutes in three 10 minute periods over a day. It can be argued however that although it is not as beneficial as long bouts of exercise, it is still very effective and can be used to help improve mood. The study completed by Osei-tutu and Campagna (2004) aids in explaining how it is duration that is most effective to improve mood state.

Osei-tutu and Campagna (2004) identify that there are a number of variables which can affect an individuals mood state including listening to music and having a conversation with someone else, so by removing these variables more accurate results are provided. A problem with the study, on the other hand, is that there was no supervision of the subjects whilst they were completing the physical activity, therefore there is no evidence to say that the subjects were not listening to music whilst walking or walking with a partner or friend.

As well as this there is no evidence to say that the subjects actually took part in the walking exercise for the correct length of time. The subjects used in the study were sedentary subjects so at the time of the study they were in the stages of precontemplation, with no intention to become active. It therefore would have been a very difficult task for the subjects to become active and stick to the program.

A study completed by McGowan and Talton (1996) provided evidence to support the study conducted by Osei-tutu and Campagna (2004) that one single bout of physical activity is more beneficial than more than one bout of physical activity per day. The study by McGowan and Talton (1996) however does not have any comparison with multiple physical activity bouts. The only two groups used in their study were the single bout of exercise group and a control group who sat in on a lecture about sports psychology. McGowan and Talton (1996, p863) do, however state that the after an acute bout of physical activity participants tended to feel better.

Berger and Owen (1998) conducted a study comparing the difference between, low, moderate and high intensity exercise to provide an indication of which intensity level is most beneficial to improving mood states. It was highlighted before the study by Berger and Owen (1998) that activities completed at a moderate intensity were beneficial to increasing mood state, however there was no evidence to say that it was significantly more beneficial or at all more beneficial than low or high intensity levels.

The study completed by Berger and Owen (1998) consisted of 91 subjects which were split up into 4 study groups. The study groups used in this study were low, moderate and high intensity groups and a control group was also studied. Subjects were requird to complete a 14 week program which consisted of a body conditioning class twice a week, taking place at the same time every week. The subjects in the low, moderate and high intensity groups were asked to complete the exercise class at 50%, 65% and 80%, of their maximum heart rate (HR max), respectively.

It was reported, however, that problems occurred with the heart rate intensity levels and the high intensity group were working at a rate of 79% of HR max, which according to Corbin and Pangrazi (1996) cited in Berger and Owen (1998) is classed as a moderate intensity level. This resulted in the study becoming a comparison of low intensity and two categories of moderate intensity levels. Mood was measured using POMS before and after the exercise class on weeks 6, 9 and 12.

The results gathered from the study provided strong evidence that low intensity levels were more beneficial than either of the moderate intensity levels. The results showed that low intensity significantly improved the 5 negative mood states when comparing pre mood state and post mood state, however moderate intensity at 65% HR max did prove to provide the best results in improving vigour. Nevertheless, the results from the study showed that no matter what level of intensity exercise was completed at; there were overall improvements of mood state.

The study completed by Berger and Owen (1998) can be positively viewed as there were a number of variables kept constant when the study was conducted. Variables such as the same instructor used for each class and the time of day the class were assigned for meant that mood could be precisely assessed. On the other hand, there is no indication of what level of experience the subjects had previously had in physical activity. If the group was well mixed with experienced and inexperienced subjects then the results may not be as accurate as first thought.

Cox (2002, p180) states that those people who take part in physical activity and sport more regularly have a more positive mood state. They exhibit lower negative mood states and a higher vigour scores. With this in mind it could mean that the reason that moderate intensity scores did not increase as much at low intensity was because there were more subjects in the group that had more physical activity experience resulting smaller increases of mood scores as a result of the exercise class. As explained, it is evident that physical activity does contribute in improving mood state.

There are many mechanisms which have been linked to the role which physical activity has on reducing mood state. According to Biddle (2000) there are a number of biological and physiological reasons are behind the role physical activity has on improving mood state, including the thermogenic hypothesis and the endorphin hypothesis. The thermogenic hypothesis is the theory which suggests that as a result of physical exercise, the bodies’ core temperature will increase and this will result in mood becoming more positive.

In conclusion, it is appropriate to comment that there is a strong relationship between physical activity and the improvement of mood state (Osei-Tutu and Campagna, 2004; Biddle, 2000; Berger and Owen, 1998). Mental health is a prominent issue in modern day western society, so the development of research in-relation to mental health and physical activity is very productive and proves to be cost friendly to the nation.

Studies by Osei-Tutu and Campagna (2004), Berger and Owen (1998) and McGowan and Talton (1996), show that physical activity does help with the improvement of mood. As a result of these studies it is evident that longer bouts of exercise are more beneficial, coupled with low to moderate intensity levels of exercise. Unfortunately, there is still very little clarification on the recommended activities and sports which will help with mood reduction.

Kennedy and Newton (1997, p200) have attempted to address this issue by stating ” it appears that a large variety of activities such as running, swimming, aerobic dancing, cycling and walking are suitable for producing psychological benefits. ” Research is limited however, and therefore it would be useful to complete studies which look at the effect team orientated activities such as football and basketball have on mood, but similarly activates such as house work, which is also considered as a form of physical activity.

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