There is clear evidence that physical activity reduces risk of early morbidity and mortality. There are also well-documented benefits of regular physical activity and aerobic exercise for mental health, including depression and anxiety. Consistent with the Healthy People goals for 2020 and the Surgeon General’s 2015 call to action, there is an urgent public health priority to increase physical activity among individuals in the United States, which will aid in the improvement of health, fitness, and quality of life. To achieve this goal, it is critically important to understand and address factors related to low engagement in physical activity.
Low levels of physical activity may result from fearful reactions to anxiety, stress, and related bodily sensations. The physical sensations experienced during physical activity or exercise can often mimic the physical manifestation of anxiety and stress (e.g., sweating, shortness of breath, increased heart rate). Therefore, the natural physical sensations experienced during exercise may instead be viewed as reminders of anxiety/stress. Individuals who are fearful of these sensations may avoid physical activity and exercise. Accordingly, our research examines “fear of exercise” and exercise avoidance. We also consider affective determinants of physical activity, including enjoyment of physical activity, and how people feel during and immediately after exercise. Our exercise intervention research has a dual focus of improving physical health and mental health outcomes.