Exercise Makes People Feel Better but People are Inactive: Paradox or Artifact?

in Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
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  • 1 Carnegie Research Institute, Leeds Metropolitan University
  • | 2 Iowa State University
  • | 3 Loughborough University
  • | 4 Massey University (Albany)
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The exercise psychology literature includes an intriguing, albeit not frequently discussed, paradox by juxtaposing two conclusions: (a) that exercise makes most people feel better and (b) that most people are physically inactive or inadequately active. In this article, we propose that this might be an artifact rather than a paradox. Specifically, we question the generality of the conclusion that exercise makes people feel better by proposing that (a) occasional findings of negative affective changes tend to be discounted, (b) potentially relevant negative affective states are not always measured, (c) examining changes from pre- to postexercise could miss negative changes during exercise, and (d) analyzing changes only at the level of group aggregates might conceal divergent patterns at the level of individuals or subgroups. Data from a study of 12 men participating in a 90-min walk–run protocol designed to simulate the demands of sports games (e.g., soccer) are used to illustrate these points.

Backhouse is with the Carnegie Research Institute, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, England; Ekkekakis is with the Department of Health and Human Performance, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa; Biddle is with the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, England; Foskett is with the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health, Massey University (Albany), Auckland, New Zealand; and Williams is with the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, England.