The acute exercise effect describes numerous mental and physical responses to a single bout of exercise. The acute exercise effect is contrasted with the chronic exercise effect, which is characterized by mental and physical responses to repeated bouts of exercise, typically performed several times per week for several weeks, months, or years.
Exploration of acute and choric exercise represents two primary research paradigms that have been used to examine the effects of exercise on mental status or mental health. In sport and exercise psychology settings, acute exercise has been explored as a means to influence a variety of mental health outcomes, including affect, behavior, and cognitive performance with a recent focus on its impact on underlying neural mechanisms. Relative to acute exercise, outcomes can be assessed during exercise as well as immediately (e.g., from minutes to an hour) or after a longer delay (e.g., hours to days) following the termination of the exercise.
The acute exercise effect, when the exercise session is designed appropriately, has been shown to include reductions in anxiety and depression and improvements in mood, cognitive function, and quality of life. Recent statistical summaries of the existing literature have concluded
that acute exercise yields a significant and small positive effect on state anxiety (Ensari Greenlee, Motl, & Petruzzello, 2015) and cognitive performance (Chang, Labban, Gapin, & Etnier, 2012). Although the acute exercise effect is relatively transient, the positive effects of acute exercise are of value because
acute exercise consistently benefits numerous mental health outcomes
the effects of chronic exercise may be based upon the accumulation of repeated bouts of acute exercise, and
the positive experience in response to acute exercise may be associated with adherence to a chronic exercise program that can result in more long-term beneficial effects.
The effect of acute exercise on mental health outcomes is moderated by several factors, including aspects of the exercise program itself (e.g., intensity, duration, modality), individual characteristics (e.g., age, gender, fitness level, previous exercise experience), and aspects of the mental health outcomes assessed (e.g., types of anxiety, depression, and cognition). To maximize our understanding of the acute exercise effect on
mental health outcomes, future research and practical applications should take these moderators into consideration.
Chang, Y. K., Labban, J. D., Gapin, J. I., & Etnier, J. L.
(2012). The effects of acute exercise on cognitive performance:
A meta-analysis. Brain Research, 1453, 87 101.
Ensari, I., Greenlee, T. A., Motl, R. W., & Petruzzello, S. J.
(2015). Meta-analysis of acute exercise effects on state anxiety:
An update of randomized controlled trials over the past
25 years. Depression and Anxiety, 32, 624 634.
***Contributed by Jennifer Etnier & Yu-Kai Chang for Hackfort, D., Schinke, R. J., & Strauss, B. (Eds.). (2019). Dictionary of sport psychology: sport, exercise, and performing arts. Academic Press.