April 2017: “Physical Activity and Well-Being”

Title: Physical Activity

Activity: Exercise every day and reflect on how you feel before, during, and after.

Science: Physical activity psychology has increased in popularity over the years, now with multiple scientific journals dedicated exclusively to the topic. There have been numerous studies demonstrating correlations between physical activity and well-being — I’ll summarize just three of them here:

  1. Long-Term Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Psychological Outcomes: 82 participants completed a 12 week fitness program based on indoor cycling and were tested for depression, anxiety, among other psychological measures. Compared to a control group, all participants experienced both a fitness and psychological health improvement. Even after 1 year, the benefits remained above the baseline, demonstrating both short and long term effects.
  2. Effects of aerobic exercise on anxiety sensitivity: 54 participants with elevated anxiety sensitivity scores completed six 20 minute treadmill exercise sessions at either a high-intensity aerobic or low-intensity level. Based on a series of self-ratings (pre-experiment, post-experiment, and in a one week follow-up), both high- and low- intensity exercise were shown to reduce anxiety sensitivity. However, high-intensity exercise resulted in more rapid reductions in a global measure of anxiety sensitivity and only high-intensity exercise reduced fear of anxiety-related bodily sensations.
  3. Physical Exercise and Psychological Well-Being: A Population Study in Finland: 3403 participants of the Finnish cardiovascular risk factor survey completed a questionnaire focused on physiological (e.g. exercise habits) and psychological (e.g. Beck Depression Inventory) measures. The results showed that those who exercised at least two to three times a week experienced less depression, anger, cynical distrust, and stress compared to those who exercised less frequently, demonstrating a strong association between level of physical exercise and well-being.

Results: I focused on four primary types of physical activity: walking (low-intensity), running (high-intensity), yoga (low-intensity), and indoor cycling (high-intensity). For additional motivation, I also signed up for a half-marathon on April 30th — I find having a goal to work towards helps me push through any number of reasons I can make up to skip a workout. Finally, I engaged with a friend to enlist the benefit of social norms into the early stages of creating a physical exercise routine. Having encouragement from and responsibility to a friend resulted in additional motivation to exercise on a daily basis (more on this in a later post).


  1. It became easier to exercise over time: Like many activities, it was extremely difficult to cultivate the motivation to exercise when I was just starting out. However, over time it became easier and easier as my level of physical fitness increased and the habit forming process began to take shape. I found it worked to start small and build up over time.
  2. Regardless of how I felt before, I always felt better after: There were times I was itching to put on my running shoes and get outside and other times when even just leaving my bed felt like an impossible task. What I found, however, is that regardless how I felt before starting to exercise, I always felt significantly better in the time after completing the physical activity.
  3. Different types of exercises had different effects: In all cases, the physical activity helped clear my mind. Just by being active, I found myself thinking with a greater sense of calm. While doing Yoga, I could feel the anxiety leaving my body and experienced a general peacefulness; while running, I found myself thinking more rationally about some top of mine challenges, seemingly cultivating a wider perspective.

Next Steps: I plan to continue my routine of physical activity, especially not wanting to lose the momentum I have been able to build up since making it a focus. To this effect, I purchased a yoga mat for my apartment to facilitate exercises at home for busy days and will be attempting a marathon later in the year. I also plan to directly integrate running into my process for decision-making.


Psychology of Physical Activity: Determinants, Well-Being and Interventions.
By Stuart J. H. Biddle, Nanette Mutrie.

Effects of aerobic exercise on anxiety sensitivity. Joshua J Broman-Fulksa, Mitchell E Bermana, Brian A Rabianb, Michael J Websterc. Behaviour Research and Therapy
Volume 42, Issue 2, February 2004, Pages 125–136.

Physical Exercise and Psychological Well-Being: A Population Study in Finland
Peter Hassmén. Preventive Medicine. Volume 30, Issue 1, January 2000, Pages 17-25

Long-Term Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Psychological Outcomes. Thomas M. DiLorenzo, Eric P. Bargman, Renée Stucky-Ropp, Glenn S. Brassington, Peter A. Frensch, Thomas LaFontaine. Preventive Medicine. Volume 28, Issue 1, January 1999, Pages 75-85

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