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Illuminating the Black Box: Investigating Prefrontal Cortical Hemodynamics during Exercise with Near-Infrared Spectroscopy

Panteleimon Ekkekakis

Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) presents an appealing option for investigating hemodynamic changes in the cerebral cortex during exercise. This review examines the physical basis of NIRS and the types of available instruments. Emphasis is placed on the physiological interpretation of NIRS signals. Theories from affective neuroscience and exercise psychobiology, including Davidson's prefrontal asymmetry hypothesis, Dietrich's transient hypofrontality hypothesis, and Ekkekakis's dual-mode model, are reviewed, highlighting the potential for designing NIRS-based tests in the context of exercise. Findings from 28 studies involving acute bouts of exercise are summarized. These studies suggest that the oxygenation of the prefrontal cortex increases during mild-to-moderate exercise and decreases during strenuous exercise, possibly proximally to the respiratory compensation threshold. Future studies designed to test hypotheses informed by psychological theories should help elucidate the significance of these changes for such important concepts as cognition, affect, exertion, and central fatigue.

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Can You Have Your Vigorous Exercise and Enjoy It Too? Ramping Intensity Down Increases Postexercise, Remembered, and Forecasted Pleasure

Zachary Zenko, Panteleimon Ekkekakis, and Dan Ariely

There is a paucity of methods for improving the affective experience of exercise. We tested a novel method based on discoveries about the relation between exercise intensity and pleasure, and lessons from behavioral economics. We examined the effect of reversing the slope of pleasure during exercise from negative to positive on pleasure and enjoyment, remembered pleasure, and forecasted pleasure. Forty-six adults were randomly assigned to a 15-min bout of recumbent cycling of either increasing intensity (0–120% of watts corresponding to the ventilatory threshold) or decreasing intensity (120–0%). Ramping intensity down, thereby eliciting apositive slope of pleasure during exercise, improved postexercise pleasure and enjoyment, remembered pleasure, and forecasted pleasure. The slope of pleasure accounted for 35–46% of the variance in remembered and forecasted pleasure from 15 min to 7 days postexercise. Ramping intensity down makes it possible to combine exposure to vigorous and moderate intensities with a pleasant affective experience.

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Can High-Intensity Exercise Be More Pleasant? Attentional Dissociation Using Music and Video

Leighton Jones, Costas I. Karageorghis, and Panteleimon Ekkekakis

Theories suggest that external stimuli (e.g., auditory and visual) may be rendered ineffective in modulating attention when exercise intensity is high. We examined the effects of music and parkland video footage on psychological measures during and after stationary cycling at two intensities: 10% of maximal capacity below ventilatory threshold and 5% above. Participants (N = 34) were exposed to four conditions at each intensity: music only, video only, music and video, and control. Analyses revealed main effects of condition and exercise intensity for affective valence and perceived activation (p < .001), state attention (p < .05), and exercise enjoyment (p < .001). The music-only and music-and-video conditions led to the highest valence and enjoyment scores during and after exercise regardless of intensity. Findings indicate that attentional manipulations can exert a salient influence on affect and enjoyment even at intensities slightly above ventilatory threshold.

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Some like It Vigorous: Measuring Individual Differences in the Preference for and Tolerance of Exercise Intensity

Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Eric E. Hall, and Steven J. Petruzzello

Individuals differ in the intensity of exercise they prefer and the intensity they can tolerate. The purpose of this project was to develop a measure of individual differences in the preference for and tolerance of exercise intensity. The steps involved in (a) item generation and face validation, (b) exploratory factor analysis and item selection, (c) structural validation, (d) examination of the internal consistency and test-retest reliability, (e) concurrent validation, and (f) construct validation are described. The Preference for and Tolerance of the Intensity of Exercise Questionnaire (PRETIE-Q) is a 16-item, 2-factor measure that exhibits acceptable psychometric properties and can be used in research aimed at understanding individual differences in responses to exercise and thus the psychological processes involved in the public health problem of exercise dropout.

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Measuring State Anxiety in the Context of Acute Exercise Using the State Anxiety Inventory: An Attempt to Resolve the Brouhaha

Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Eric E. Hall, and Steven J. Petruzzello

Two studies were conducted to examine the internal consistency and validity of the state anxiety subscale of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (SAI) in the context of acute exercise. SAI responses typically found in the exercise literature were replicated. Analysis at the item level revealed divergent response patterns, confounding the total SAI score. During moderate and immediately after vigorous exercise, scores on items referring to cognitive antecedents of anxiety decreased, whereas scores on items assessing perceived activation increased. Indices of internal showed exercise-associated decreases. A principal-components analysis of responses immediately postexercise revealed a multidimensional structure, distinguishing “cognitive” and “activation” items. By failing to discern exercise-induced and anxiety-related increases in activation from anxiety-antecedent appraisals, the SAI exhibits compromised internal consistency and validity in the context of acute exercise.

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A Methodological Checklist for Studies of Pleasure and Enjoyment Responses to High-Intensity Interval Training: Part I. Participants and Measures

Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Mark E. Hartman, and Matthew A. Ladwig

For decades, the exercise psychology research literature echoed the conclusion that exercise makes most people feel better, with no clear evidence that this “feel-better effect” is moderated by intensity. An overhaul of the methodological approach subsequently showed that high-intensity exercise is experienced as unpleasant, and the “feel-better effect,” although possible, is conditional and therefore not as robust or prevalent as initially thought. Recently, several studies investigating high-intensity interval training (HIIT) have concluded that HIIT is pleasant and enjoyable, despite the high intensity. Considering that HIIT is emerging as an option in physical activity recommendations and exercise prescription guidelines, in part due to these claims, a methodological checklist is presented to aid researchers, peer reviewers, editors, and other readers in critically appraising studies examining the effects of HIIT on affect and enjoyment. This first part addresses the characteristics and number of participants, as well as the selection of measures of affect and enjoyment.

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A Methodological Checklist for Studies of Pleasure and Enjoyment Responses to High-Intensity Interval Training: Part II. Intensity, Timing of Assessments, Data Modeling, and Interpretation

Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Mark E. Hartman, and Matthew A. Ladwig

Recent studies have concluded that high-intensity interval training should be seen as a “viable alternative” to, and may be more enjoyable than, moderate-intensity continuous exercise. If true, these claims have the potential to revolutionize the science and practice of exercise, establishing high-intensity interval training as not only a physiologically effective exercise modality but also a potentially sustainable one. However, these claims stand in contrast to voluminous evidence according to which high levels of exercise intensity are typically experienced as less pleasant than moderate levels. To help researchers, peer reviewers, editors, and critical readers appreciate possible reasons for the apparently conflicting results, we present a checklist that identifies crucial methodological elements in studies investigating the effects of high-intensity interval training on affect and enjoyment. This second installment covers how “high-intensity” and “moderate-intensity” experimental conditions are defined, the timing of assessments of affect, the modeling of affective responses, and data interpretation.

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

Susan H. Backhouse, Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Stuart J.H. Biddle, Andrew Foskett, and Clyde Williams

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.

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The Digest

Mark Beauchamp, Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Kim Gammage, Marc Jones, Ralph Maddison, Scott Martin, and Christopher Spray

Edited by David Lavallee

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Throwing the Mountains into the Lakes: On the Perils of Nomothetic Conceptions of the Exercise-Affect Relationship

Lisa M. Van Landuyt, Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Eric E. Hall, and Steven J. Petruzzello

Traditional conceptions of the exercise–affect relationship postulate that moderate-intensity exercise leads to positive affective changes in all or most individuals, and it can, therefore, be prescribed for all individuals involved in exercise programs. This study investigated whether this assumption is true, not only at the level of group averages but also at the level of individuals. Affect was assessed before, during, and after a session of moderate-intensity cycle ergometry using a dimensional conceptualization of affect. Examination of individual responses revealed a diversity of patterns that was masked by aggregate-based analyses. Mean ratings of affective valence were shown to remain stable during exercise, but in actuality almost half of the individuals experienced progressive improvement, whereas the other half experienced progressive deterioration. The diversity of individual affective responses must be taken into account in formulating conceptual models of the exercise–affect relationship and deriving public health physical activity recommendations.