Title: “How Does Exercise-Intensity Influence the Stress Response? Measuring Psychological and Physiological Responses to a Laboratory Stressor Following an Acute Bout of Exercise at Varying Intensities”
Supervisor: Dr. Eli Puterman (Kinesiology)
Committee Members: Dr. Mark Beauchamp (Kinesiology), Dr. Frances Chen (Psychology)
Abstract: The acute stress response (i.e. the reactivity to and recovery from a stressor) is often characterized along two dimensions: (1) a psychological one, in which experiences are appraised as either challenging, threatening or neutral, producing context dependent emotions, and (2) a physiological one, in which the neuroendocrine and sympathetic nervous systems promote the release of hormones that mobilize energy to cope with the stressors. As promising behavioral strategies to cope with stress, physical activity and exercise can mitigate the psychological and physiological responses to stressful events. While preliminary work has demonstrated that both fitness and acute exercise can mitigate stress in daily life, less is known regarding the effects of a single bout of aerobic exercise on various dimensions of the stress response. Moreover, the intensity at which exercise best reduces susceptibility to stress is seldom known. In this proposed study, I aim to investigate: (1) the effects of a single bout of aerobic exercise on psychological and physiological responses to an acute stress, (2) whether the effects of exercise on the stress response depends on the intensity at which exercise is performed, (3) the associations between the physiological outcomes of exercise at various intensities and psychological and biological stress responses, delineating a plausible mechanism of the stress-buffering effects of exercise, and (4) whether fitness level moderates responses to stress. In completion of this project, the relationship between acute exercise and stressful evens will be understood at a more insightful, mechanistic-level. Results may impact healthcare by informing which types of exercise prescriptions may be used to treat stress in everyday life.