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Exercise May Ward Off Anger

Preliminary Findings Suggest Exercise May Mitigate an Angry Mood
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 8, 2010 -- If you're about to have a meeting with your boss that you just know will tick you off, go out and take a quick jog first.

So suggests an exercise scientist whose small preliminary study showed that prior exercise may mitigate an angry mood.

The findings need to be replicated in much larger numbers of people before any firm recommendations can be made, says Nathaniel Thom, PhD, a contractor to the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, who performed the study while at the University of Georgia.

But, he tells WebMD, it appears "exercise acted like a drug, protecting against angry mood induction, almost like taking aspirin to prevent a heart attack."

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Baltimore.

Slideshows Evoke Anger

The study involved 16 high-strung college-age men who were easily angered.

Before and after 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cycling, participants viewed a slideshow of pictures known to evoke anger (Ku Klux Klan, Hitler, malnourished children) mixed with images designed to induce fear, pleasantness, or no emotions.

Then, before and after 30 minutes of quietly resting, they watched the slideshows again.

At various points in the study, the men were asked to rate how angry they felt on a 20-point scale, where higher numbers equal more anger.

Exercise Helps to Mitigate Anger

After exercising, the men's average anger rating after viewing the slides went up slightly, to about 7 points compared with about 6.3 points before viewing the slides, but the difference was so small it could have been due to chance.

But after resting, scores jumped from about 8 points before the slideshow to about 10 points after the slideshow, a significant difference.

"After exercising, watching the pictures didn't make the men more angry, while after rest, they did," Thom says.

However, some of the findings were not consistent. Exercise did not reduce the intensity of anger. When they rated their anger on a standardized 0 to 9 point scale, where higher numbers equal more intense anger, the men had an average score of about 4.2 points before exercise, compared with about 3.9 points afterward, a difference was so small it could have been due to chance.

Also, there were no changes in brain activity when the men viewed the violent pictures after exercise.

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