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The relationship between the amount of exercise individuals take and the stress they experience Essay Sample

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The relationship between the amount of exercise individuals take and the stress they experience Essay Sample

This report focuses on the hypotheses that exercise reduces stress levels. To evaluate this hypotheses 178 subjects were used, all of whom were first year undergraduate psychology students. The subjects were recruited to the study via convenience sampling. These subjects exercise and stress levels were collected through the use of a two part questionnaire that focused on these two variables. The results backed this hypothesis through statistical testing, which showed there was a negative correlation between the two.


Stress is defined as being: “The non-specific response of the body to any demand placed upon it” (Hans Selye (1926); Orman, M. (1991). The 14 Day Stress Cure. Houston (Texas): Breakthru Publishing.) This definition of stress comes from a man who “first documented the chemical and hormonal changes that occur with stress”. His research is obviously highly relevant in the comparison of stress levels and physical energy levels, because when a person exercises their chemical/ hormonal levels alter.

The aim of this study is to investigate whether or not people who exercise suffer less from stress and in stressful situations than people who don’t exercise as much if at all. A similar study was conducted in this field by Morse and Walker (1994). The study took a group of 46 undergraduate students and divided them into two groups: an exercising group and a non-exercising group. They then put the exercising group through 6 weeks of exercise accredited by ASCM. After this period both groups were given The General Symptom Index questionnaire to complete. Their results stated that after exercise intervention stress symptoms were reduced and the subjects that didn’t exercise had raised stress symptoms. So according to this study there is a correlation between the amount of exercise a person does and the amount of stress symptoms they show. This allows the assumption that this study will support their results and provide a negative correlation.

Steptoe and Cox also conducted a similar study in 1988; they followed much the same method. The difference was they put the two different groups of people through low intensity and high intensity training programs. They found that the high intensity training brought about feelings of tension and anxiety, whereas the low intensity training bought about much more positive mood changes e.g. exhilaration. This shows that training at an extensive level can have adverse effects, which work against the positive stress reducing effects.

As with the studies quoted above, the aim of this study is to see if there is a relationship between stress levels and the amount of exercise a person does. The general hypothesis is that the more exercise a person does the lower their stress levels should be.



178 participants were used in the conduction of this study, all of whom were first year undergraduate psychology students. The subjects were recruited to the study via convenience sampling. The specific gender and age of each subject was not noted, however it is possible to say that a majority of the subjects were between the ages of 18-20 on the date of the study and consisted predominantly of females.


The study has been designed to show whether or not there is a correlation between the amount of stress a subject endured and the amount of the leisure time exercise they participated in. This information will be gathered in a quantified way through a questionnaire that singles out these two variables. The information collected will then be inputted on SPSS (an analysing software program).


In order to prove or disprove a correlation between the two variables (stress and exercise), it was necessary to find a way of measuring them. In this case a questionnaire was given to the subjects to complete. It consisted of two sections each of which focused on an individual variable. The first section was concerned with the amount of stress the subject was under, this was accessed through a 4 point Likert scale. This was presented through ten different stress measuring statements, which were followed by the scale. The scale was worded: Strongly agree, agree, disagree and strongly disagree. 1 and 4 changed from strongly agree to strongly disagree depending on whether the statement was stress favourable or not. The subjects stress levels were accessed through calculating the sum of their answers. The higher the final score; the higher the subjects stress levels.

Physical exertion was measured through the calculation of the subjects’ energy expenditure. This was assessed through a met value conversion system. Whether the exercise was aerobic or anaerobic was not taken into account.


The questionnaire was administered to the subjects in their workshop groups which consisted of approximately 17 people. The participants were given clear instructions as to what was required of them and were given the right to withdraw from the study. Each subject completed the form independently and all were given adequate time and were asked to answer honestly.

There is a range of 145 for physical activity. This shows that the calorific expenditure of the subjects was extremely broad. According to the graph some people didn’t exercise at all. (This is strange as people normally expend energy, outside their Basal Metabolic Rate through walking on a daily basis. However these people could have been disabled in some way e.g. wheel chair). Normally this huge range would be a positive as it gives a greater amount of area to show correlation, but in this case a majority of the results are clumped together. The range of stress is somewhat lower this means that the subject’s levels of stress were quite near to each other. Although the range of physical activity was so broad, the median was much lower; 39. This shows that there must have been a few very high scores and that most of the results fell with in a certain area. As the median for stress was at 26 it was nearer to the maximum score of 50 (but not by much). This shows that most of the subjects have an average stress value. The scatter plot below depicts this more clearly.

Scatter plot: correlation between stress and exercise.

After activating the Spearman’s Rho correlation coefficient option on SPSS the following result was attained: .rho:-.119 this shows that there is a very low correlation/ relationship between the stress a subject endures and the amount of exercise they participate in. It was also possible to see this small level of negative correlation on a scatter graph of the variables (shown above). This supports the hypotheses or suggestion that: exercise is an effective technique for reducing stress. The significance level however is unacceptable, at .114 it is above .05, which means that it could be down to chance alone.


The Spearmans Rho read-out shows that there is a minute amount of negative correlation between a subject’s energy expenditure and their stress levels. This doesn’t fully support the observations made in studies by Morse and Walker (1994); that the application of exercise reduces stress levels. Although there is a slight negative correlation (-.119, it is not strong enough to support the statement above fully). They also used the ASCM guidelines, which incorporate aerobic and anaerobic exercise. In this study the type of exercise participated in was not noted. To provide a more accurate portrayal the type exercise carried out should have been noted, instead of just the calorific output of each subject. This study was conducted through the use of a questionnaire this questionnaire could easily have been completed dishonestly by a subject who was ashamed of the lack or high level of exercise they participate in. Another factor to consider is the sig two tailed read out, which is .114. this value is the level of probability, as it is 11.4 it breeches the 5% threshold. Therefore it is impossible to prove (with out further study) that this phenomenon did not happen by chance.

Another factor that bears relevance is the theory that college life can be the most stressful period of a person’s life. This can be down to a whole host of factors including academic worries and financial worries. A study into this (conducted by Ramsey, Greenberg, & Hale, 1991; Gill, 1985; Lang, 1982) found that undergraduates levels of stress rose throughout the academic semester and went down over holiday periods.

Future researchers should give out a more detailed questionnaire which identifies the specific exercises participated in (anaerobic aerobic). In order to improve on results stress levels could be measure by taking the heart rate of the individual, and monitoring them in real life situations.

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