the impact of physical activity on mood

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It has been widely proposed that there is a relationship between physical activity and mental health, and that physical exercise is associated with improving mental health states. (Hale and Raglin, 2002; Berger and Owen, 1998; McGowan and Talton, 1996; Di Lorenzo, Bargman, Stuck-Ropp, Brassington, Frensch and LaFontaine, 1999; Osei-Tutu and Campagna, 2004 and Biddle, 2000).  Biddle, Fox and Boucher (2000), state that those people who live a sedentary lifestyle are twice as likely to suffer serious disease and health problems, including mental health problems, than those who take part in some form of physical activity.

In 1992 it was reported by the Home Office of Health and Economics that the cost of treating mental health illnesses, including mood, has mounted up to five billion a year.  It is a common assumption that a healthy being is a physically active and functioning individual however this is not always the case. Many people may be physically healthy, but they may not be mentally well.  Mental health, described by the Health Development Agency (HDA); (Formerly the HEA 1997), is the emotional and spiritual resistance which enables us to enjoy life and to survive pain, disappointment and sadness. It is a positive sense of well being and an underlying belief in our on and others dignity and worth.


This essay will aim to look at the evidence produced concerning the effect physical activity has on mood and the possible mechanisms responsible for this. To do this it is imperative to look firstly at what mood is, and how it can be affected, with specific reference to suggested mechanisms which effect mood. This essay will also provide an overview of the evidence which is available to support the use of physical activity and its relationship with improving mood, with a critique of the studies completed and any recommended improvement which could be used to strengthen the support of physical activity.

The chambers Dictionary (1998) defines mood as “a manner of action or a state of being” however Cox (2002, p190) defines mood as “A situation specific, somewhat transient, psychological response to an environmental stimulus.”  What can be concluded from these two definitions is that mood is transient, fluctuating and changes regularly from negative to positive or vice versa.  Mood is a state of mind that can last for a range of time from just a few minutes and hours to a more clinical period of time which may last from a few months to a year.  Mood can change due to a series of stimulus, which if identified, can lead to the individual living a much healthier life.


Mood is generally measured by the Profile of Mood States (POMS) which is a very popular scheme. This is supported by Cox (2002, p178) who states that “POMS is by far the most commonly used instrument for measuring mood states”.  POMS was first created by McNair, Lorr and Droppleman (1971) and it is made up of 65 items that measure six different moods states. The six moods states that are measured are, tension, depression, anger, vigour, fatigue and confusion. Five of the mood states measured are viewed as negative moods with ‘vigour’ being the only state which is viewed as positive. Once mood has been assessed and the results calculated, a typical POMS graph, for people who exercise regularly, should have higher levels of vigour than any other mood state and this is known as the ‘Iceberg profile’.  People who lead a sedentary lifestyle will have a more even profile, because vigour is at a similar level to all the other mood states.  A common critique of POMS is that it mostly looks at negative mood states while other mood measurement techniques look at more positive states.  On the other hand, Berger and Owen (1998) explain that POMS is an accurate measurement of mood because it is sensitive to small fluctuations of mood which other mood models may not pick up.

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It is clear that physical activity can be used in conjunction with other methods to help improve mood and there are many benefits to this ‘treatment’.  Physical activity is cheap compared to other forms of treatment, there are no real side effects if it is administered correctly and most importantly it can be self sustained and maintained across a person’s full life cycle, which is most certainly beneficial to the person’s future health.  However, there is no specific guidelines to say that to improve mood you are required to run, jog, skip or swim a certain distance for a ...

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