Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Gym and positive emotion

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Gym and positive emotion:
What are the effects of going to the gym on positive emotion and well-being?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Group fitness classes in a gym

[Provide more detail]

Focus questions
  • What is emotional well-being?
  • Theories of emotion
  • How can going to the gym impact emotional well-being?
  • What sets the gym a part from regular exercise?
  • Can going to the gym have adverse effects on positive emotion and well-being?

Emotional well-being[edit | edit source]

Emotional well-being is an integral part of achieving overall general health. Emotional well-being encompasses physiological arousal, psychological and subjective experiences. Although individuals may experience similar situations, their interpretations of events are shaped by their culture and prior experiences. Emotional well-being encompasses having a positive sense of self and the ability to utilise own strengths. Different aspects of emotional well-being can present as:

  • Resilience
  • Ability to cope with life stressors
  • Ability to foster positive emotions such as trust and grattitude
  • Reduced depressive symptoms
  • Social connectedness.

Theories of emotion[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

James Lange Theory[edit | edit source]


The James Lange theory was founded by William James and Carl Lange and aims to explain the cause that physiology has on emotion.

The theory suggests that a physical event causes a physiological arousal and the way our brains interpret the reaction is the emotion we feel. The common example to this theory is imagining stumbling into the presence of a bear. The autonomic nervous system off the individual will kick in with an increased heart rate and muscles becoming tense. The individual feels the physiological arousal and the interpretation may be "my heart is beating fast because i am afraid".The James-Lange theory notes that different patterns of arousal result in experiencing different emotions, which explains how people experience the same situation differently.

Cognitive Appraisal Theory[edit | edit source]


The cognitive appraisal theory of emotion delves into the role that cognition can play in emotion. The cognitive appraisal theory suggests that the cognitive thought process that an individual has during an event will determine the emotion they feel. The way this theory can explain gym satisfaction and positive emotion is the evaluation and justification that an individual makes during/after exercising in a gym. If the individual interprets the environment and physical/physiological experience as positive than the emotional state will reflect a satisfied and positive emotion.

Two-Factor Theory[edit | edit source]


The two factor theory of emotion was introduced by Schachter and Singer. This theory draws upon both physiology and cognition to explain how individuals experience emotion. The two factor theory of emotion suggests that the physical events results in a physiological arousal whilst the individual simultaneously evaluates and labels what the emotion is. They suggest that an individual is not just fearful due to an increased heart rate and increased perspiration, but the interpretation of the event (such as being in front of a bear) and reasoning that occurs results in labelling the emotion felt.

When understanding how going to the gym can effect positive emotion- this theory suggests that the individual takes both the physiological arousal and interpretation of the environment to determine their mood. If during the exercise at the gym, an individual feels their heart rate and perspiration increase, instead of pairing those similar physiological arousal of fear, they would instead justify the events as being a positive aspect of working out.

Gym attributions[edit | edit source]

Looking further into how going to a gym may impact emotional well-being, it is important to understand the multifaceted attributions a gym offers.

Figure 2. Gym equipment

Physiological and psychological benefits[edit | edit source]

Regular attendance and participation within a gym can have profound physical, physiological and psychological effects on an individual.

Physiological and psychological[edit | edit source]

Regular exercise has been linked to a reduction in perceived stress, reduction in depressive symptoms as well as lowered reported anxiety and ADHD expressions (Calfas, 1994). Chronic stress has been linked as a strong contributor to a variety of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and depression. Therefore the neurophysiological contributions that gym attendance and exercise has on an individual is significant.

Major depression is a commonly occurring mental health disorder which has been noted as the leading cause of disability throughout the world (Moussavi et al, 2007). The primary treatments for overcoming the negative emotion associated with this disorder is a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy and medication often being Serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. The act of exercising results in a release of endorphins and neurotransmitters which include dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. All of these neurotransmitters play an important part in the regulation of mood. It therefore has been tested and confirmed that exercising can induce a sense of well-being resulting in the reduction of depressive symptoms. The release of these neurotransmitters during exercise can additionally regulate mood disruptions such as anxiety arousal and ADHD.

Neurophysiological effects resulting from exercise has shown structural changes in the brain including in the amygdala, hippocampus (shown memory and stress regulation), cerebellum (increased synaptic size) and motor cortex (blood vessel density and dendritic arbors) (Thomas, 2012). It is obvious that the brain is a complex organ with a multitude of functions which benefit from regular exercise. Exercise is also shown to change the physiology of the body including benefiting cardiovascular systems as well as improving function of the respiratory system. Regular participation of physical activity strengthens these organs and systems to improve overall bodily function. A healthier body is the leading way to improve an individuals overall well-being

Physical[edit | edit source]

Another effect that going to the gym can have on positive emotion, is the obvious physical improvements made through commitment to attendance. Research shows that regular exercise and proper nutrition results in a reduction of body fat and formation of lean muscle- both contributors to a healthy physique (Bonhauser, 2005). Research does show that having a positive self image and self esteem improves well-being and ultimately positive emotion[factual?].

Social Connectedness[edit | edit source]

The aim of a gym is to provide an environment to enable individuals to improve their physical health through exercise. The physical and psychological benefits which were stated above are the obvious factors which can effect positive mood within an individual, however the social connectedness that a gym provides is another factor to improve positive mood and wellbeing.

Henri Tajfel (1979) brought forward the concept of social identity theory which states that the groups people belong to are an important part of what makes an individual. The identities formed through each group such as citizenship, sports club, school groups and families become the sources of self esteem and belonging within the social world. This concept of owning a membership and joining a gym provides a social belonging and identity formation for its members which sets it apart from regular exercise such as going for a run.

Another facet of social connectedness in the gym is the social interactions that are formed. Relationships are often formed within a gym such as a member and a personal trainer forming a trust based relationship which encompasses constructive feedback and the means for goal setting. Forming friendships with members is often the aim of group fitness classes which are offered in the majority of all commercial gyms. Running a group based exercise class encourages the members to become familiar with one another and eventually the friendships which are formed motivate one another to return. The front of house staff members are also encouraged to build rapport with members to be able to form a positive environment where the social connectedness is a driving force for increased motivation, increased attendance and improved positive mood. Positive social support through gym staff is an excellent step towards increasing the members sense of self, sense of identity and sense of ability.[factual?]

Facilities[edit | edit source]

The biggest factor which sets a gym apart from other forms of exercise such as organised sport or independent exercise, is the unique facilities that a gym offers. Modern commercial gyms often boast amenities such as access to pool's[grammar?] and saunas, onsite physiotherapists as well as complimentary breakfast for members. These facilities can often be the selling point to many members for the dual functions they can bring.

Arguably the most important facilities of the gym is the exercise equipment itself. A study conducted by Juvancic-Heltzel and colleagues (2013) aimed to investigate if having more variety of gym equipment would alter enjoyment levels and effort perception. Their findings confirmed that being in a gym environment with more variety increased not only enjoyment levels, but also the repetitions performed and amount of time using the equipment without altering their perceived exertion. The importance of these findings suggest if individuals are exposed to more variety in equipment, they are more likely to work harder and longer in the gym compared to having limited equipment.

Women in the gym[edit | edit source]

The gym environment can be experienced in a multitude of ways depending upon one’s unique experiences. Historically women often revert away from physical activity during adolescence compared with males who tend to maintain interest in being active. A report done by the Victorian government (2015) reported that more than 2/3 adult Australian women are classified as being sedentary or having low levels of exercise activity.

All individuals possess unique goals for participating in exercise or physical activity. This is specifically true for women who often place higher importance on the social aspects of physical participation rather than performance goals such as aerobic fitness or increased strength (Hanlon et al, 2010). Research suggests that although some women begin their fitness journey for reasons such as health risk factors, the majority of women continue through the enjoyment of social features that it often brings (Codina, 2012; O’dougherty, 2010).  Compared with older demographic females, young women when participating in exercise are more likely to be motivated by societal expectations and appearance goals for body image (Milne, 2014; Bulley, 2009).

This research highlights the balancing act that a gym has with encouraging women to participate and attend. The unruly fears that female’s hold in regards to their experience of exercise can be greatly influenced in the environment they chose to partake in. Female only gyms often aim to reduce the stigma of male dominance in strength but also place little importance on competition and comparison.

Anne Stanford- Qualitative Analysis[edit | edit source]

The work done by Ann Stanford in 2013 illustrates a comprehensive analysis of research on factors that influence females motivation for physical activity. She noted that the qualitative research and results, which have been done in this field, could be narrowed down to three conceptual influences on women: Ability comparison competition, family, peer, teacher influence, and appearance concern.

Ability, comparison, competition[edit | edit source]

The most commonly occouring[spelling?] factor found in the range of studies conducted was the influence of ability, competition and peer comparison on the likelihood and enjoyment of physical activity (Azzartio et al, 2006). It noted that physical activity either had an encouraging effect or distinct opposite effect of discouragement to the individual depending on their perceived abilities compared with others (Casey, 2009). Fear of criticism of their abilities as well as fear of comparative performance amongst classmates of the other sex contributed to the decline of enjoyment of physical activity for the females (Grieser, 2006).

Family, peer, teacher influence[edit | edit source]

This factor concerns the role modelling and support the individuals received on being physically active (Eime, 2010). Adolescent girls reported that co-participation of family and peers made them more willing to partake and enjoy the experience of exercise (Knowels, 2011). This factor also encompasses the social influence that can take place, in particular if peers become sedentary, it is common for the individuals to conform and also revert from being active (Knowels, 2001). An important issue that was raised through peer influence was the contention with males for equality in ability (Hills, 2006). It was found the females would often revert from sport and exercise in fear the males would dominate equipment or playing time therefore diminishing perceived abilities of their self (Azzarito, 2006).

Appearance concerns[edit | edit source]

This factor focuses on the appearance concerns that young females have about societal expectations of maintaining a feminine physique through exercise. It is shown as a personal barrier of body image and self-emotions when faced with physical activity.  The type of concerns which also fell into this category were ones about their appearance during exercise and the adverse affect it had on their performance. An example of this was the young females would often refrain from participating in physical education classes to avoid ‘sweating, messy hair and makeup’ (Cockburn, 2003).

Case study:[edit | edit source]

Joan is a 19 year old female who is severely overweight. Joan's favourite thing to do is be with her friends who are not physically active. Joan wants to improve her health by losing some weight so often invites her friends to join her, however they often moan and decline the offer. Joan decides to go to the gym by herself but finds herself starting to feel anxious when inside. She avoids the weights room which is busy with muscular men and is left doing cardio alongside multiple thin women. Joan finds herself feeling as though she is not able to acheive her goals and decides to leave the gym before she embarrasses herself. Which of the following influences effected Joan's experience at the gym?

Real or imagined physical evaluation.
Helpful feedback.
Self comparison.
Low self esteem

Adverse effects of the gym[edit | edit source]

It is important to note that although gyms aim to encourage all genders and ages to enjoy partaking in physical activity, the environment can have adverse effects to emotional well-being. The gym environment can have an adverse effect on self image and capability if the individual compares their self worth and ability to others (Brudzynski, 2010). Poor body image has been reported as a strong barrier to exercise due to the experience of anxiety in the presence of real or imagined physical evaluation (Lantz, 1997). This would be a strong factor influencing an individuals experience within a gym as it is commonly a social environment therefore could be perceived as an anxiety provoking environment.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Nuvola apps korganizer.svg
Topic Review: Quiz Time!

1 What is not a factor included in emotional wellbeing?

Physiological arousal
Psychological appraisals
Subjective experiences

2 “Emotions come from physiological arousal” is a feature of what emotion theory?

Cognitive appraisal theory
James-Lange theory
Schachter and Singer two factor theory

3 Regular exercise has been linked to a reduction in perceived ___, reduction in depressive symptoms as well as lowered reported anxiety and ADHD expressions.


4 Neurotransmitters secreted during exercise can regulate mood disruptions such as anxiety arousal and ADHD.


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

  • The first and most simple aspect that influences mood when in a gym is the exercise itself. Exercise has been proven to induce a release of serotonin[spelling?], dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain- these are the chemicals involved in regulating mood. The neurophysiological benefits from aerobic exercise includes increased abilities to cope with stressors through many structural brain changes including to the hippocampus and amygdala.
  • Exercise is also responsible for enabling individuals to build and maintain a healthy physique which ultimately leads to improved self image and positive sense of self. Positive body image has been shown to increase an individuals perceived abilities and worth- both contributors to an overall sense of well-being.
  • Another factor which confirms that the gym can influence positive mood is the social connectedness aspect. Gym memberships offer a form of identity for individuals to feel apart of something as well as a sense of self and purpose. Social connectedness also reaches through the gym staff employed who build relationships, offer support, feedback, learning tools and a safe environment for their clients. The social support and connectedness that a gym offers is a unique function that sets it above independent physical activity.
  • Another facet to the gym which effects positive mood is the equipment and facilities they offer. The unique facilities of a gym including onsite physiotherapy, saunas, spas and state-of-the-art equipment all set out to benefit the members. Research shows that having a bigger variety of equipment positively improves experience within the gym, eliciting positive emotion and increased exertion.
  • Women on average have lower participation in physical activity for a number of reasons. The withdrawal from activity is suggested to begin in adolescence with influences such as fear of comparison, competition, male dominance inequality and negative peer role models. Women only gyms aim to reduce these negative experiences by providing environments to diminish feelings of inability and negative evaluation.
  • Although the aim of a gym is to encourage enjoyment of physical activity, it can ultimately have adverse effects to individuals. The environment can provoke feelings of real or imagined negative evaluation, anxiety and reduced body image. Therfore[spelling?]
  • In conclusion, there are many aspects to a gym that can influence and effect positive mood and ultimately lead to a better sense of well-being. The interpretation of the environment, physiological/psychological contributions, social connections, equipment availability, body image & self perceptions and prior experiences all play a role in the way a gym can potentially benefit positive emotion and well-being.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Azzarito, L., Solmon, M., Harrison, L. (2006). "…If I Had a Choice, I Would…." A Feminist Poststructuralist Perspective on Girls in Physical Education. Research Quarterly For Exercise And Sport, 77, 222-239.

Bonhauser, M., Fernandez, G., Püschel, K., Yañez, F., Montero, J., Thompson, B., Coronado, G. (2005). Improving physical fitness and emotional well-being in adolescents of low socioeconomic status in Chile: results of a school-based controlled trial. Health Promotion International, 20, 113-122.

Brudzynski, L., & Ebben, W. (2010). Body Image as a Motivator and Barrier to Exercise Participation. International Journal Of Exercise Science. Retrieved from

Bulley, C., Donaghy, M., Payne, A., Mutrie, N. (2009). Personal Meanings, Values and Feelings Relating to Physical Activity and Exercise Participation in Female Undergraduates. Journal Of Health Psychology, 14, 751-760.

Calfas, K., Taylor, W. (1994). Effects of physical activity on psychological variables in adolescents. Pediatric Exercise Science, 6, 406-423.

Casey, M., Eime, R., Payne, W., Harvey, J. (2009). Using a Socioecological Approach to Examine Participation in Sport and Physical Activity Among Rural Adolescent Girls. Qualitative Health Research, 19, 881-893.

Cockburn, C., Clarke, G. (2002). “Everybody's looking at you!”: Girls negotiating the “femininity deficit” they incur in physical education. Women's Studies International Forum, 25, 651-665.

Codina, N., Pestana, J., Armadans, I. (2013). Physical Activity (PA) Among Middle-Aged Women: Initial and Current Influences and Patterns of Participation. Journal Of Women & Aging, 25, 260-272.

Eime, R., Payne, W., Casey, M., Harvey, J. (2008). Transition in participation in sport and unstructured physical activity for rural living adolescent girls. Health Education Research, 25, 282-293.

Grieser, M., Et Al. (2006). Physical activity attitudes, preferences, and practices in African American, Hispanic, and Caucasian girls. Health Education & Behaviour, 33, 40-51.

Hanlon, C., Morris, T., Nabbs, S. (2010). Establishing a successful physical activity program to recruit and retain women. Sport Management Review, 13, 269-282.

Hills, L. (2006). Playing the field(s): an exploration of change, conformity and conflict in girls’ understandings of gendered physicality in physical education. Gender And Education, 18, 539-556.

Jekauc, D., Brand, R. (2017). Editorial: How do Emotions and Feelings Regulate Physical Activity?. Frontiers In Psychology, 8.

Knowles, A., Niven, A., Fawkner, S. (2011). A Qualitative Examination of Factors Related to the Decrease in Physical Activity Behavior in Adolescent Girls During the Transition From Primary to Secondary School. Journal Of Physical Activity And Health, 8, 1084-1091.

Lantz, C., Hardy, C., & Ainsworth, B. (1997). Social physique anxiety and perceived exercise behaviour. Journal Of Sport Behavior, 20(01), 83-93.

Milne, M., Divine, A., Hall, C., Gregg, M., Hardy, J. (2014). Non-Participation: How Age Influences Inactive Women's Views of Exercise. Journal Of Applied Biobehavioral Research, 19, 171-191.

Moussavi, S., Et Al (2007). Depression, chronic diseases, and decrements in health: results from the World Health Surveys. The Lancet, 370, 851-858.

O'Dougherty, M., Kurzer, M., Schmitz, K. (2010). Shifting Motivations: Young Women’s Reflections on Physical Activity Over Time and Across Contexts. Health Education & Behavior, 37, 547-567.

Proctor, C., Tsukayama, E., Wood, A., Maltby, J., Eades, J., Linley, P. (2011). Strengths Gym: The impact of a character strengths-based intervention on the life satisfaction and well-being of adolescents. The Journal Of Positive Psychology, 6, 377-388.

Standiford, A. (2013). The Secret Struggle of the Active Girl: A Qualitative Synthesis of Interpersonal Factors That Influence Physical Activity in Adolescent Girls. Health Care For Women International, 34, 860-877.

Steptoe, A., Butler, N. (1996). Sports participation and emotional wellbeing in adolescents. The Lancet, 347, 1789-1792.

Thomas, A., Dennis, A., Bandettini, P., Johansen-Berg, H. (2012). The Effects of Aerobic Activity on Brain Structure. Frontiers In Psychology, 3.

Victorian Health Promotion Foundation. (2015). Female participation in sport & physical activity. Melbourne: VicHealth. Retrieved from

External links[edit | edit source]

This Is What Happens to Your Brain After Just One Workout (Sophie Miura, My Domaine, 540 words approx)