Running head: EFFECTS OF EXERCISE ON ANXIETY 1
Effects of Exercise on Anxiety
Kari Brown, Zach Oglesby, and Keith Padgett
PSY 220: Research Design and Statistics
EFFECTS OF EXERCISE ON ANXIETY 2
This study was designed to examine the effects of exercise on anxiety. Participants
(N=24, 71% male) were split into a high intensity exercise group, low intensity exercise group
and a control group. The high intensity group ran six laps on the track, the low intensity did
yoga, and the control group leisurely read a magazine. We expected people in the high intensity
group would display lower levels of anxiety after exercising than the low intensity and control
group. There was not a significant difference found among the three groups when referring to
anxiety, p= .790
Today, exercise plays a role in many people's daily lives. With the emphasis on looking
good that is projected by society through magazines, television and the creation of new diets
exercise is portrayed to be an important aspect within society. Not only is looking good an issue,
but there are many health issues that come with not exercising. In the 1970's, when the running
or jogging craze" began, many people began to notice the positive effects, both physically and
mentally, that running caused (Kerr & Vlaswinkly, 1990). For example, exercise has been
suggested to lower anxiety and stress, which are contributing factors to coronary heart disease
(the number one killer of Americans). High levels of anxiety also increase the chance of obesity
(Pozuelo & Zhang, 2008).
Some positive effects that come from exercising are the lowering of anxiety and stress
levels a person may be feeling and just increasing their well-being over all (Norris, Carrol &
Cochrane, 1990). Anxiety is defined as an “apprehensive anticipation of future danger or
misfortune accompanied by a feeling of dysphoria or somatic symptoms of tension” (Diagnostic
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and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 2000). According to Comandena in the
Encyclopedia of Human Emotions, “The twentieth century has been labeled „The Age of
Anxiety.‟” Some large scale causes of anxiety could be the threat of nuclear war, biological
weapons, global warming, and AIDS. Anxiety can also be caused by some small scale reasons
such as the day to day anticipation of what lies ahead, increasing need for technology and
money, and just feeling out of control (Comadena, 1999). Thinking about all these factors puts a
lot of stress upon one‟s body, both physically and mentally.
Although exercise, in general, helps decrease the level of anxiety a person may be
feeling, it can be broken into two broad categories. Within the two categories, high-intensity and
low-intensity, there are many different ways to go about exercising. Quicker movements that
increase heart rate are considered high-intensity. Some examples are running and turbo kick.
Low-intensity could be defined as slower movements and less of it. Some examples are
beginner‟s yoga, Tai‟ Chi, and light weight lifting, where it is more focused on breathing and
stretching than quick movements. Although exercise in general shows to lower anxiety levels,
high-intensity has been shown to be a better means of lowering anxiety levels over longer
periods of time than low-intensity (Norris, et al, 1990). Also, in comparison to anti-anxiety
medication, high-intensity exercise has a similar effect on lowering anxiety levels over a long
period of time whereas low-intensity has a small effect that does not equal up to that of
medication or high-intensity exercise (Raglin & Morgan, 1987). When doing our experiment, we
expected similar solutions of high-intensity exercise decreasing anxiety levels much more
efficiently than low-intensity exercise or no exercise at all.
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Twenty- four interested students from the Hanover College campus signed up to
participate in a thirty minute session for the study. The subjects, who were gained through a
convenient sample, consisted of freshmen to seniors. 71% of the participants were males, while
29% were females. Also, 96% were Caucasian and 4% were African American. The ages
ranged from 18-22.
For this experiment, we used clips from the P90X Yoga workout along with three yoga
mats for the low-intensity condition. The video consisted of ten minutes of light stretching and
breathing exercises. The high-intensity participants utilized the Horner Center indoor track on
the Hanover College campus. The Beck Anxiety Inventory (Adult Version) was issued to all the
participants. This inventory consisted of 21 symptoms that are associated with stress ranging on
a scale from 0 to 3 (0 meaning not symptom at all and 3 meaning severely-it bothered a lot) that
the participant had been feeling within the last 24 hours. Some examples are feeling terrified or
afraid, unsteady, unable to relax, and face flushed.
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All of the participants were given an informed consent to begin the experiment. Each of
them then received half of The Beck Anxiety Inventory. After filling out the survey, the
participants were assigned to three different experimental groups (control, high-intensity, and
low-intensity). The high-intensity group ran six laps (approximately ten minutes) around the
track. The low-intensity group participated in the first ten minutes of the P90X yoga workout
(mainly breathing exercises and stretching). The control group read the popular men‟s
magazine, Esquire. All groups then were given the other half of the first questionnaire. Each
condition was concluded with a distributing a debriefing form to each participant.
To determine whether exercise decreased anxiety, participants were randomly assigned to
partake in an activity of either low or high intensity exercise, or a control condition. The anxiety
of all participants was measured both before and after the activity. Anxiety was analyzed using a
3 (condition: low, high, or control) by 2 (time: pre vs post) mixed factorial design with repeated-
measures on the second factor. The expected interaction between time and condition was not
significant, F(2,21) = .811, p = .458. In the low intensity group, anxiety increased from 4.63 to
5.38, in the control group, anxiety increased from 4.00 to 6.78, while in the high intensity group
anxiety decreased from 6.43 to 6.29. Tests of simple main effects indicated that there was no
significant change between time 1 and time 2 in any condition at p = .09 - .94.
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Figure 1. Mean changes in anxiety scores for low intensity, high intensity, and control groups.
We hypothesized that higher intensity exercise would decrease a person's anxiety more
than lower-intensity exercise or no exercise would. Our results show that while high intensity
exercise resulted in a greater decrease in anxiety than low intensity exercise or our control group,
these results were not significant. Although our results were not significant, our findings are
similar to those in a study that involved the psycholoigical functioning of athletes whom exercise
EFFECTS OF EXERCISE ON ANXIETY 7
many hours throughout the week compared to people who exercise very little throughout the
week that was conducted by Brand et al. (2009). This study found that athletes who spent 17.69
hours exercising were more psychologically stable (more in control of their emotions caused by
some factors such as stress and anxiety) then the participants who spent only 4.69 hours
exercising (Brand et all., 2009). Another article explains why exercise helps decrease the levels
of anxiety and stress a person may be feeling. In an article written by Psychologyists Kerr and
Vlaswinkel (2002) mentions that diminishing stress can be explained by the monoamine
hypothesis where an individual relates feeling better through neurotransmitters such as
norepinephrine and serotonin to a decrease in anxiety. When a person exercises, these
neurotransmitters are released. This idea contributes to the idea that exercise can decrease levels
of anxiety (Kerr & Vlaswinkel, 2002). Even though we found no significant difference between
high intensity and low intensity workouts and their effect on levels of anxiety, we can compare
our findings with those that have found significant results that support our hypothesis. Our
hypothesis was that aerobic (high intensity) exercise would have a greater effect of reducing
levels of anxiety than anaerobic (low intensity) exercise.
Conducting our study on the Hanover College campus limits us to a small sample size
from only one demographic. Hanover students are generally between the ages of 18-22,
Caucasian, and from middle class families. This limits the external validity of our study in
regards to being able to generalize our results due to the isolated sample. Also, people who do
exercise or do not mind exercising are more likely to have participated in our study.
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The duration of our study also may have had an impact on the results of study. Our
study was based on participants exercising only once rather than over a longer period of perhaps
ten weeks; this shortened duration of time prevented us from gathering more accurate data. In
addition, our method of measuring anxiety may have affected our results. The Beck Anxiety
Scale asked questions that were meant to pertain to events over the course of a month prior to
filling it out. It was also not designed to be split into portions that would then be given at
different times, let alone ten minutes apart from each other as we decided to do. This in
combination with our decision to ask participants only to apply the past day rather than month to
the questions they filled out on the scale (which was a decision that was made in attempt to
counteract the effects of splitting the anxiety scale into two parts) most likely diminished its
effectiveness. By having each participant take half of the Beck-Anxiety scale, then performing
for ten minutes in their condition and then filling out the other half of the anxiety test directly
after, there was not much time to experience the overall effect of the three different conditions on
For future direction, we would increase the amount of participants from 24 to one that is
more representative of the population we are trying to measure. We would try to make is
divisible by three so the statistics would be somewhat more reliable. Also, we would like to
have a more equal representation of both genders, so we could better understand if gender plays
a role in the effect of exercise on anxiety.
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We would also prolong our experiment and study the long term effects of the exercise on
anxiety. By conducting our study over a year or longer, results may be more sufficient and
reliable. Also if we were to do future studies of this topic, we would supply each participant a
workout schedule and provide them with different high-intensity and low-intensity workouts,
rather than just one aspect of each. For example, high-intensity participants could run for an
extensive of time at a faster pace, do Turbo Kick, heavy weight lifting, or do quick sprints. The
low-intensity group could participate in longer yoga workouts, T‟ai Chi, walking long distances,
or light weight lifting. Through the prolonged experiment, we would strive to support aerobic
exercise has a more positive effect on increasing a person‟s well-being (such as lowering anxiety
levels, emotion control, and happiness) more efficiently than anaerobic exercise, much like the
results of the study done by Norris, Carrol, and Cochrane (1990).
We would still use the Beck Anxiety Scale to measure anxiety, but it would be used how
it was made to be used. The scale would measure over the past month and at the end we would
distribute the same survey to each participant that they received prior to the study. Then we
would create a mixed design to observe whether there is an interaction or not. It would not be
split up into two sections that measure the day before and during exercise.
For our final direction, we would change the means in which we tested the control
group. Reading certain magazines can lead to maybe an increase and a decrease in anxiety.
Some articles in different magazines can remind people of certain stressors on their lives, as well
as alleviate others anxiety by reading articles that can comfort them. We would attempt to find a
gender neutral activity for our control group to participate in.
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In conclusion, our hypothesis that aerobic (high-intensity) exercise increases anxiety
levels at a more efficient rate than anaerobic (low-intensity) exercise or no exercise at all can be
supported by outside sources, but our findings show the interaction not to be significant. If we
prolonged this study, our results may differ. Exercise has not only been shown to decrease
anxiety and stress levels, but it also has been shown to decrease one‟s chance for heart disease,
cancer, and many other serious diseases that affect many Americans today (Pozuelo & Zhang,
2008). Due to the emphasis of looking “good” that is portrayed through the media among our
society today, exercise may increase one‟s self-esteem and well-being overall causing the person
to be healthy in multiple aspect of their life (Pretty, Peackock, Sellens & Griffen, 2005). Any
exercise at all is suggested to improve multiple different aspects of people‟s lives (Kerr &
Vlaswinkel, 1990). Whether it is medical, psychological, or physical, exercise seems to have
many positive results on a person.
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