How does exercise intensity impact your mood?

How does exercise intensity impact your mood?
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New research may explain why exercise intensity could determine your mood state the following day.

Exercise naturally increases ‘feel-good’ endorphins, the body’s natural happiness chemicals. But can excessive exercise intensity cause low mood and why does this happen? New research conducted by the Autonomous University of Barcelona analyses what may cause these negative effects.

The study collated data from road cyclists to illuminate the significance of monitoring a training session load with the use of heart rate variability measuring tools to favour assimilation and prevent injuries, and to analyse the link between exercise intensity with mood states the following day.

Improving fitness levels by applying stress to the body

To improve fitness levels, stress must be applied to the body and through recovery, the body adapts and is then able to accommodate greater stress in the next training session. It is important that exercise intensity is controlled, and adequate time is allowed for recovery to improve the performance of athletes and prevent injuries and overtraining.

Exercise intensity and mood states

UAB researchers studied the effects exercise intensity has on road cyclists in relation to their mood states and their capacity to adapt to greater training loads. Heart rate variability (HRV) was employed to establish a connection.

A six-week analysis of comments from five amateur road cyclists regarding the physical stress they endured during training. Once completed, the cyclists responded to questionnaires on how they had perceived their exercise intensity. HRV was measured the following morning alongside their mood state.

Change in mood vs HRV

The researchers measured a change in mood and/or HRV using the HFnu (normalised high-frequency band) parameter. In the participants, the day after training could serve as an indicator of exercise intensity, signalling whether the training had been adequate or too intense for the physical state of the athlete.

The study found that if the exercise intensity was high, the lower the mood on the following day and also the lower the HRV. Contrastingly, high HFnu was associated with an improvement in the mood of athletes, which indicated a relationship between HRV and mood states.

“The objective of the research was to explore the relationship among three aspects: training, heart rate variability and mood”, explained researcher of the UAB Department of Basic Psychology Carla Alfonso. “With this study, we aimed to know when an athlete must rest, because their system is saturated, and when an athlete can train, with more or less intensity, because their body is ready to assimilate the training load”.

The results obtained are a first step in “setting up a monitoring system which takes into account both internal and external training loads, in addition to mood state and heart rate variability of the athlete, with the aim of helping them adapt to their training and prevent injuries that may come with overtraining”, concluded Professor Lluís Capdevila of the UAB Department of Basic, Developmental and Educational Psychology, and co-author of the study.


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