"These results offer initial and tentative guidelines for the prescription of aerobic exercise toward the enhancement of psychological health," says lead author Cheryl J. Hansen, of the department of psychology at Northern Arizona University.
Once a week for four weeks, 14 study participants engaged in one of four activities: pedaling at a moderate pace on an exercise bicycle for either 10, 20 or 30 minutes or sitting quietly for 30 minutes.
Participants wore a heart rate monitor and were instructed to maintain their target heart rate by pedaling faster or slower. Before and after each test, the participants took a mood questionnaire.
Ten minutes of moderate exercise were enough to improve overall mood, as well as increase vigor and decrease fatigue. Mood was not further improved by 20 or 30 minutes of exercise, the researchers found.
The study results are published in the July issue of Health Psychology.
"This study suggests that 10-minute bouts may provide some measure of psychological benefit, at least to the college-age population, with little improvement from longer workouts," Hansen says.
The researchers found no significant improvement in the participants' levels of tension, depression or anger from exercising. But these particular study participants had low scores in these areas to begin with.
"There was little or no room for improvement in these mood dimensions," Hansen says.
These results complement the daily exercise recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine. To obtain the physical health benefits of exercise, including better heart and lung fitness, these organizations recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, which can be conducted in short bursts throughout the day.
The researchers suggest future research efforts should attempt to confirm their study findings, as well as to firmly establish the minimum amount of exercise needed to improve mood.
"Knowing the minimum length of time needed to experience positive mood changes, along with the latest exercise recommendations, a health psychologist can make exercise prescriptions that maximize both psychological and physical effects," Hansen concludes.
Health Psychology is the official, peer-reviewed research journal of the Division of Health Psychology (Division 38), American Psychological Association. For information about the journal, contact Arthur Stone, Ph.D., at (631) 632-8833. For copies of the article, contact the Center for the Advancement of Health at 202-387-2829 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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