Effects of Exercise and Relaxation on Affect and Brain Activity
T Van Staveren, S Achord, EE Hall, P Ekkekakis, & SJ Petruzzello, PhD, FACSM, Department of Kinesiology, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL
Both aerobic exercise and relaxation training have been show to improve
well-being through reductions in negative affect and enhancement of positive affect.
This study examined the effects of exercise and guided relaxation on affect and
brain activation. 19 adults (10 , 9 ; 22.7 yrs) participated in both randomly
assigned conditions: (a) 30 min of treadmill running @ 75% VO2max; (b) 25 min
of verbally guided relaxation. Brain activation (EEG; F3, F4, referenced to linked
ears), state anxiety (SAI), and energetic arousal were assessed at Pre, 0-, 10-, 20-,
and 30 min post-condition. EEG asymmetry scores (R-L alpha) were compared
with respect to changes in emotional state. Despite no significant change in alpha
activity in the exercise condition, frontal asymmetry was related to state anxiety
[r(17)= -0.51, P=0.02] immediately post-exercise, indicating greater left
relative to right frontal activity (i.e., less alpha) was associated with lower state anxiety.
No significant asymmetry-anxiety relationship was found for the relaxation
condition. Relaxation resulted in alterations in theta and alpha band activity (P<
0.05), but did not change self-reported affect. Anxiety reduction was present only
for the exercise condition from 0- to 10-min post compared to anxiety levels over
the same time points in the relaxation condition (P=0.03). Exercise also resulted
in increased energetic arousal that persisted for the entire post-treatment interval
(P=0.003). Results suggest exercise may act as an emotion-eliciting event which
is in part mediated by lateralized frontal brain activation. Relaxation resulted in
altered EEG patterns, but had no appreciable impact on affective responses.