Faculty Articles

Acute Aerobic Exercise Decreases a Neurophysiological Response to Emotionally Negative Stimuli

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Journal of Exercise and Nutrition





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Introduction: A growing body of literature suggests that aerobic exercise results in improved mental and emotional well-being. Despite the clear benefits of aerobic exercise on mental well-being, the physiological mechanisms through which exercise benefits emotion processing is currently unclear. Methods: Twenty participants were tested in a randomized crossover design that consisted of one exercise session and a control session (no exercise) scheduled one week apart. The exercise session consisted of an acute (30 minutes) bout of aerobic exercise (i.e., running on a treadmill at 75-85% max heart rate). The current study applied an established neurophysiological measure of emotion processing - the electroencephalogram (EEG) Late Positive Potential (LPP) component of the Event Related Potential (ERP). The LPP ERP amplitude was measured in response to a series of randomly presented emotionally negative and emotionally neutral picture stimuli. Self-report mood measures were also administered. The possibility that salivary alpha amylase (sAA) and cortisol would be related to changes in the LPP ERP after exercise was also examined. Results: It was shown that relative to the baseline condition, aerobic exercise decreased the amplitude of the LPP response to negative pictures. Participants also self-reported a significant decrease in total mood disturbance following exercise. Although cortisol and sAA were significantly different from baseline measures, neither measure was related to the LPP ERP amplitude. Conclusions: The findings suggest that acute aerobic exercise has a neuroprotective effect against emotionally negative stimuli.

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