The Relation Between Exercise Frequency, Mood, and Behavior


This study examined the relationship between mood, behavior, and exercise frequency. The study also assessed if exercise frequency was related to an individual possessing characteristics of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). The sample was 31 individuals who had access to the survey via social media, and took the survey on their own free will, after giving their consent. Participants were given a 9-question survey, eight of which were questions framed from the Diagnostic criteria of Major Depressive Disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), while the ninth question of the survey pertained to exercise frequency. Eight correlations were run to test the significance between the variables, and only one of eight correlations resulted in significance. This suggests that generally, mood and behavior are not related to exercise frequency. Furthermore, this shows that Major Depressive Disorder is not related to how frequently an individual exercises.

The Relation Between Exercise Frequency, Mood, and Behavior


Exercise is a positive activity that people perform in order to better themselves physically, and often times mentally. This positive activity provides individual’s with a way to not only look better, but also feel, and achieve more. Over the past 30 years, there has been an increased interest in the positive physical benefits of exercise, which has resulted in a fitness movement.

Accompanying the growth of a ubiquitous health and fitness industry is the increased curiosity over the potential for psychological well being as an added benefit of exercise (Hansen, Stevens & Coast, 2001).   According to Mather, Pincus, and Ram (2015), physical activity is a valuable tool for enhancing life satisfaction. Their research showed that usual psychical activity was positively associated with life satisfaction in middle and older adulthood. Generally, on days when people were more physically active then was typical for them, they experienced greater life satisfaction. This suggests that exercise, or physical activity, not only has positive physical benefits, but also positive mental, and general life benefits (Mather et al., 2015).

Many times exercise is done as an activity to relieve stress after or before work. Nägel, Sonnentag, and Kühnel (2015) examined the relationship between day-specific job stressors and exercise after work. They postulated that employees with strong exercise motives would be more likely to engage in exercise after work compared with employees with weak motives. This study suggests that health behaviors have an impact on job stressors and that exercise motives play a moderating role (Nägel et al., 2015). Exercise itself is a very broad term as there are many different exercise types and styles. In this particular study, Greene and Petruzzello (2015) examined the relationships between resistance exercise intensity, affect, and enjoyment. The researchers assessed these factors of exercise, which ultimately provided evidence that in-task affect is important to consider in the intensity-affect-enjoyment relationship for resistance exercise. Understanding relationships as such is important in furthering our understanding of what leads an individual to enjoy, adhere to, or dropout from regular exercise programs (Greene el at., 2015). In a study examining if exercise was good for high blood pleasure, Wilcox, Bennett, Brown, and Macdonald (1982) found that a period of moderate aerobic exercise might result in a significant reduction in post-exercise blood pleasure. Also, blood pleasure increased less during exercise and showed a greater fall after exercise. This suggests the beneficial notions that exercise betters a person physically, and mentally (Wilcox et al., 1982).

In addition to studies examining exercise and how it betters the human body, there are also other factors that play a large role in the positive betterment of human beings. Mood and behavior also play a large roll in making individuals feel better, physically, mentally, and often times spiritually in this case.

Mood and Behavior

Mood is a feeling or frame of mind that individuals temporarily experience. Mood is very situational as an individual’s mood changes from moment to moment, as situations occur and time progresses. Mood can be very beneficial for a person, or it can be very detrimental for a person. In particular, college students are at a high risk for depressed mood (Geisner, Kirk, Mittmann, Kilmer, & Larimer, 2015). Telling students that not everyone feels the same as you, or conversely, others feel similarity to you, may provide both a change in behavior (increase help seeking) and reduce hopelessness and isolation by normalizing the experience of depression and decreased mood (Geisner et al., 2015). This research proposes that a stimulus may cause a change in behavior, which in turn, would affect the individual’s mood.

There are several different types of mood disorders that individuals can be diagnosed with. A mood disorder is a mental health class that health professionals use to broadly describe all types of depression and bipolar disorders (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2015). Many factors contribute to these disorders, however, are most likely caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals. Life events, especially stressful life events or changes, may also contribute to a depressed mood. Theories about depression (i.e., cognitive theory and depressive realism theory) are well researched but suggest different venues of understanding the cognitive underpinnings of mood (Geisner et al., 2015). Additionally, much research is available about normative perceptions around substance use and how those perceptions relate to an individuals mood and behaviors (Geisner et al., 2015). Anyone can feel sad or depressed, however, mood disorders are more intense and harder to manage than normal feelings of sadness (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2015).

In addition to simply examining exercise and mood alone, it is necessary to examine these variables when related with exercise. Limited research has been conducted examining the relation between exercise, mood, and behavior. The relationships between these three variables should be further researched in order to further understand the relationship.

Relationship between exercise and mood and behavior

Kratz, Ehde, and Bombardier studied and examined how changes in positive and negative affect may mediate improvements in mood in a randomized controlled trial of people with clinical depression. Their findings from this study show that positive affect, but not negative affect, is a key mediator of the association between increased physical activity, and improved mood (2014). Physical activity was related to increased positive affect, which in turn, was related to lower depressive symptoms (Kratz, Ehde & Bombardier, 2014). Physical exercise has mood-enhancing and antidepressant properties although the mechanisms underlying these effects are not known (Morris, Na, & Johnson, 2012). Their study was conducted to determine if prolonged voluntary exercise has positive effects on hedonic state in rats by assessing changes in sensitivity to later hypothalamic self-stimulation (LHSS) reward following continuous access to a running wheel. A goal of this study was to determine if withdrawal of a running wheel following continuous access could produce anhedonia, which is a decrease in sensitivity to reward and a major symptom of Major Depressive Disorder (Morris et al., 2012). Their research concluded that long-term voluntary exercise increases sensitivity to rewarding stimuli, which may contribute to its antidepressant properties (Morris et al., 2012).

Rutter, Krill, Weatherill, Orazem, and Taft examined mental health problems and exercise as correlates of physical and function health (2013). These findings showed that depressive symptoms and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were both associated with poorer physical and functional health at the bivariate level and uniquely when examined together (Rutter, Krill, Weatherill, Orazem, & Taft, 2013). As the researchers hypothesized, PTSD and depressive symptoms were both significantly associated with exercise and with negative health symptoms and functional health. This supports the current hypothesis that an individual’s mood and behavior (depressive symptoms) is correlated with exercise frequency. In particular, this provides evidence that with exercise is related to depressive symptoms, which ultimately control an individual’s mood and behavior (Rutter et al., 2013). Research was conducted to determine the effects of aerobic training, resistance training, and combined training on mood, body image, and self-esteem in adolescents with obesity (Goldfield, Alberga, Hadjiyannakis, Phillips, Malcolm, Wells, Cameron, Kenny, Prud’homme, Gougeon, Tulloch, Doucette, Ma, & Sigal, 2015). All groups in the study not only improved on body image, but also physical and mental self-perceptions, which ultimately improved the individual’s mood and behaviors. They concluded that resistance training, alone or in combination with aerobic training, may provide psychological benefits in adolescents with overweight or obesity, and for some individuals, this exercise could serve as biological and psychological management of their adolescent obesity (Goldfield et al., 2015).

In addition to examining mood, behavior, and exercise, there are several aspects of mood and behavior that play a large role in Major depressive disorder, which is characterized by depression symptoms that controls mood state experiences (Fava & Kendler, 2000). Research has examined major depressive disorder and the relationship it has with exercise as an aid.

Major Depressive Disorder

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is one of the most prevalent and burdensome of all psychiatric disorders (Mata, Joormann, Hogan, Waugh, Gotlib, 2013). According to Johns Hopkins Medicine (2015), major depressive disorder involves having less interest in usual activities, feeling sad or hopeless, and other symptoms for at least two weeks. Major depressive disorder is a medical condition that includes abnormalities of affect and mood, neurovegetative functions (such as appetite and sleep disturbances), cognition (such as inappropriate guilt and feelings of worthlessness), and psychomotor activity (such as agitation or retardation) (Fava et al., 2000). MDD is not a disorder exclusively limited to adult or elderly populations. According to Fava and Kendler (2000), a substantial proportion of patients of this disorder experience their first episodes of MDD during childhood.

Mata and colleagues studied the relationship between exercise and a repeated stressor between a control group and a group of participants who had recovered from MDD. They found that both recovered depressed participants assigned to engage in acute exercise and healthy control participants (regardless of exercise condition) showed no increase in levels of negative affect (NA) in response to a repeated stressor (i.e., sad mood inductions), whereas participants recovered from Major Depressive Disorder who did not exercise exhibited higher levels of NA after the second mood induction, suggesting sensitization (2013). This suggests that exercise can serve as a protective factor in the face of exposure to repeated emotional stressors, particularly concerning NA in individuals who have recovered from depression, and more specifically Major Depressive Disorder (Mata et al., 2013).


            The current hypothesis proposed that an individual’s mood and behavior is directly correlated to how frequently they exercise. Furthermore, we expected that participants who reported higher levels of exercise would report higher levels of pleasant/positive mood and behavior than participants who reported lower exercise frequency. Frequency of exercise would be negatively correlated with Major depressive disorder, such that the more exercise an individual partakes in, the less likely they will possess characteristics of this disorder. Previous research has examined mood, behavior, and exercise independently of one another. A limited amount of prior research has been done studying the relationship between these variables.



            The sample consisted of 31 men and women who chose to take the survey on their own. There was no age requirement for the survey so participants varied in age. Participants were required to give consent in order to participate in the study.

Materials and measurements

The only required material for this study was a device in order for the participant to fill out the questionnaire. Participants were given a 9-question survey that they were asked to thoughtfully fill out. The first 8 questions promoted participants for answers about mood and were based off of the Diagnostic Criteria of Major Depressive Disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), and the last question asked the participant a question about how frequently they exercise. The questions relating to mood used a 6-pt likert ranging scale, 1(never) to 6(all the time), whereas the single question pertaining to exercise used a 7-pt likert ranging scale, 1(never) to 7(daily). This study focuses on how frequently an individual exercises and whether or not that is related to their mood and behavior.

Design and procedure

Participants had access to the survey online via social media and were able to fill it out willingly, however, they were required to give consent to filling out the survey prior to beginning. Participants were asked to indicate how often they felt several different symptoms relating to Major Depressive Disorder. The survey including 9 questions, 8 of which were related to mood and behavior, and 1 of which related to exercise frequency. Eight different correlations were conducted to compare if an individual’s mood and behavior were related to how often they exercised.


            Correlational analyses were used to examine the relationship between an individual’s mood and behavior, based off of the Diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder, and exercise frequency. Eight correlations were computed on data from 31 men and women. The results suggest that 1 out of 8 correlations were statistically significant. There was a negative significant correlation between losing interest in everyday activities (M = 2.52, SD = 1.03) and exercise frequency (M = 6.03, SD = 1.33), r = -0.452, n = 31, p = 0.011. This shows the negative significant correlation present between exercise frequency and losing interest in everyday activities. (See Figure 1)

(Figure 1)

There was no significance between feeling upset (M = 2.55, SD = 0.85) and exercise frequency, r = -0.164, n = 31, p = 0.379. There was no significant correlation between a change in appetite (M = 2.32, SD = 0.945) and exercise frequency, r = -0.115, n = 31, p = 0.539. There was no significant correlation between having trouble sleeping (M = 2.68, SD = 1.194) and exercise frequency, r = -0.266, n = 31, p = 0.148. There was no significant correlation between being mentally frustrated (M = 2.97, SD = 0.875) and exercise frequency, r = 0.116, n = 31, p = 0.536. There was no significant correlation between feeling lethargic (M = 2.87, SD = 1.176) and exercise frequency, r = -0.147, n = 31, p = 0.431. There was no significant correlation between feeling inappropriately guilty (M = 2.03, SD = 1.016) and exercise frequency, r = -0.272, n = 31, p = 0.138. Finally, there was no significant correlation between lack of concentration (M = 2.52, SD = 1.208) and exercise frequency, r = -0.135, n = 31, p = 0.468. For reference, there is also a scatterplot attached showing a non-significant correlation found in the study. This shows the non-significant relationship between lack of concentration and exercise frequency in individuals. (See Figure 2)

(Figure 2)

The correlational scatter plots accompanying these results (Figure 1 & Figure 2) show the significance and lack there of present in the current study. Overall, an individual’s exercise frequency is not significantly correlated with their mood and behavior, and more specifically Major Depressive Disorder, according to the DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).


            The results did not support the hypothesis that states that an individual’s mood and behavior are related with how frequently they exercise. However, the proposition that the more an individual exercises, the less likely they will possess characteristics of Major Depressive Disorder was supported in one out of eight correlations done for this study. There was significance present when comparing exercise frequency and how often an individual found themselves losing interest in everyday activities. The current research suggested that the more an individual exercises, does not mean that an individual is any more or less likely to have characteristics of Major Depressive Disorder, based off of the diagnostic criteria from the DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). This suggested that there is a negative correlation between exercise frequency and Major depressive disorder, such that higher exercise frequency means less likely to possess these characteristics of MDD.

While previous research heavily supports the notion that exercise is related to mood and behavior, the current study did not. Since there was only significance found in one out of eight of the correlations ran for this study, one could assume that there could have been several limitations that affected the outcome of the study. The first limitation of the study could have been question specificity. The question pertaining to exercise asked how frequently the individual exercised without specifying a timeframe or a standard or exercise. Each individual who participated in the survey could have interpreted this differently, which ultimately would have affected the outcome of data.   Another limitation of this study could have been how that individual was currently feeling. Since the majority of the questions on the survey were based off of the Diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder, an individuals current mood, stress levels, and other variables could have affected how they answered the questions. You could control this limitation by possibly giving a pre survey to the actual survey so you know how the participant was feeling when taking it. Another possibility would be to simply ask the participant how they were feeling at that moment.

Based on the limitations of the study, further research should include a larger sample size. A larger sample size would allow for more accurate representation and may yield different results. Further research should also be more specific in regards to the exercise question so the participants are more aware of exactly what the question is asking. The exercise question of the survey was a very broad question with very little specificity with allowed it to up for interpretation. This could have affected the data as participants may have interpreted the question differently. Further researchers should also administer the survey in a more controlled and thoughtful environment, rather than sending the survey out online via social media where anyone could fill it out. It is possible that the demographic that the survey was presented could have played a role in the results of the data. Since the researchers were not present when participants were filling out the survey, future research should ensure that all participants take the survey in the presence of a researcher, to ensure the questions be answered to the best of each participant’s ability.

To better this research for the future, researchers could do a variety of things in order to get more accurate data. Future researchers should test for the possibility of other potential factors that influenced the dependent variable. State-dependent mood could have played a role in this data and would need to be tested for in the future. Another factor that could have influenced the dependent variable is drug use. The use of drugs, especially during the survey, but in general, could have definitely played a role in the outcome of the results and should be tested for in future research.

There are a couple different implications of this research that need to be discussed. This research could be implicated into counseling because of the examination of an individual’s mood and behavior, and more specifically, major depressive disorder and the relationship that exercise frequency has on those variables. This would be good for a counselor to understand, as maybe he/she would be able to refer a patient to exercise as rehabilitation of their disorder. The next implication would simply be into the health and fitness scene. If a gym owner were aware that mood and behavior could be related to exercise frequency, maybe he/she would make members aware of this to encourage them to exercise more often.



American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.


Fava, M., Kendler, K. S. (2000). Major Depressive Disorder. Neuron, 28, 335-341.


Geisner, I. M., Kirk, J. L., Mittmann, A. J., Kilmer, J. R., Larimer, M. E. (2015). College students’ perceptions of depressed mood: Exploring accuracy and associations. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 46(5), 375-383.


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Mata, J., Joormann, J., Hogan, C. L., Waugh, C. E., Gotlib, I. H. (2013). Acute exercise attenuates negative affect following repeated sad mood inductions in persons who have recovered from depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 122(1), 45-50.


Mather, J. P., Pincus, A. L., Ram, N. (2015). Daily physical activity and life satisfaction across adulthood. Developmental Psychology, 51(10), 1407-1419.


Morris, M. J., Na, E. S., Johnson, A. K. (2012). Voluntary running-wheel exercise decreases the threshold for rewarding intracranial self-stimulation. Behavioral Neuroscience, 126(4), 582-587.


Nägel, I. J., Sonnentag, S., Kühnel, J. (2015). Motives Matter: A diary study on the relationship between job stressors and exercise after work. International Journal of Stress Management, 22(4), 346-371.

Rutter, L. A., Krill, S. C., Weatherill, R. P., Orazem, R., Taft, C. T. (2013). Posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, depressive symptoms, exercise, and health in college students. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 5(1), 56-61.


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