Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 251–257 | Cite as

Aerobic fitness and leisure physical activity as moderators of the stress-illness relation

  • Cindy L. Carmack
  • Carl de Moor
  • Edwin Boudreaux
  • Marta Amaral-Melendez
  • Phillip J. Brantley


Exercise as a moderator of the stress-illness relation was examined by exploring leisure physical activity and aerobic fitness as potential “buffers” of the association between minor stress on physical and psychological symptoms in a sample of 135 college students. The goal was to gather information regarding the mechanisms by which exercise exhibits its buffering effects. Researchers have examined both physical activity and physical fitness in an attempt to demonstrate this effect; however, whether both of these components are necessary to achieve the protective effects against stress is unknown. This study examined engaging in leisure physical activity and having high aerobic fitness to determine if both were necessary for the stress-buffering effects or if one factor was more important than the other.

Findings suggested a buffering effect for leisure physical activity against physical symptoms and anxiety associated with minor stress. This effect was not found with depression. Additionally, there was no moderating effect for aerobic fitness on physical or psychological symptoms. Collectively, the data suggested that participation in leisure physical activity as opposed to level of aerobic fitness is important to the stress-buffering effect of exercise. Implications for exercise prescription are discussed.


Physical Activity Physical Symptom Behavioral Medicine Aerobic Fitness General Health Questionnaire 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. (1).
    Halford WK, Cuddihy S, Mortimer RH: Psychological stress and blood glucose regulation in Type I diabetic patients.Health Psychology. 1990,9:516–528.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. (2).
    Goetsch VL, Wiebe DJ, Veltum LG, Van Dorsten B: Stress and blood glucose in Type II diabetes mellitus.Behaviour Research and Therapy. 1990,28:531–537.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. (3).
    Thomason BT, Brantley PJ, Jones GN, Dyer HR, Morris JL: The relation between stress and disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis.Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 1992,15:215–220.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. (4).
    Gruen RJ: Stress and depression: Toward the development of integrative models. In Goldberger L, Breznitz S (eds),Handbook of Stress: Theoretical and Clinical Aspects (2nd Ed.) New York: The Free Press, 1993, 550–569.Google Scholar
  5. (5).
    Johnson JG, Sherman MF: Daily hassles mediate the relationship between major life events and psychiatric symptomatology: Longitudinal findings from an adolescent sample.Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 1997,16(4):389–404.Google Scholar
  6. (6).
    Pillow DR, Zautra AJ, Sandler I: Major life events and minor stressors: Identifying mediational links in the stress process.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1996,70(2):381–394.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. (7).
    Brantley PJ, Jones GN: Daily stress and stress-related disorders,Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 1993,15:17–25.Google Scholar
  8. (8).
    Lazarus RS: Puzzles in the study of daily hassles.Journal of Behavioral Medicine., 1984,7:375–389.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. (9).
    Eckenrode J: Impact of chronic and acute stressors on daily reports of mood.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1984,46:907–918.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. (10).
    Adams SG, Dammers PM, Saia TL, Brantley PJ, Gaydos GR: Stress, depression, and anxiety predict average symptom severity and daily symptom fluctuation in systemic lupus erythematosus.Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 1994,17(5):459–477.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. (11).
    DeLongis A, Coyne JC, Dakof G, Folkman S, Lazarus RS: Relationship of daily hassles, uplifts, and major life events to health status.Health Psychology. 1982,1:119–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. (12).
    Fernandez E, Sheffield J: Relative contributions of life events versus daily hassles to the frequency and intensity of headaches.Headache 1996,36(10):595–602.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. (13).
    Jandorf L, Deblinger E, Neale JM, Stone AA: Daily versus major life events as predictors of symptom frequency.Journal of General Psychology. 1986,113:205–218.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. (14).
    Hobfoll SE, Vaux A: Social support: Social resources and social context. In Goldberger L, Breznitz S (eds),Handbook of Stress: Theoretical and Clinical Aspects (2nd Ed.) New York: The Free Press, 1993, 685–705.Google Scholar
  15. (15).
    DeLongis A, Folkman S, Lazarus RS: The impact of daily stress on health and mood: Psychological and social resources as mediators.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1988,54:486–495.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. (16).
    Ouelette SC: Inquiries into hardiness. In Goldberger L, Breznitz S (eds),Handbook of Stress: Theoretical and Clinical Aspects (2nd Ed.) New York: The Free Press, 1993, 77–100.Google Scholar
  17. (17).
    Folkman S, Lazarus RS, Gruen R, DeLongis A: Appraisal, coping, health status, and psychological symptoms.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1986,50:571–579.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. (18).
    Brown JD, Lawton M: Stress and well-being in adolescence: The moderating role of physical exercise.Journal of Human Stress. 1986,Fall:125–131.Google Scholar
  19. (19).
    Brown JD: Staying fit and staying well: Physical fitness as a moderator of life stress.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1991,60:555–561.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. (20).
    Paffenbarger RS, Hyde RT, Wing AL: Physical activity and physical fitness as determinants of health and longevity. In Bouchards C, Shephard T, Stephens J, Sutton R, McPherson BD (eds),Exercise, Fitness, & Health, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 1990, 33–48.Google Scholar
  21. (21).
    Bouchard C: Biological aspects of the active living concept. In Curtis JE, Russell SJ (eds),Physical Activity in Human Experience: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1997, 11–58.Google Scholar
  22. (22).
    Bouchard C: Discussion: Heredity, fitness, and health, In Bouchard C, Shepherd RJ, Stephens T, Sutton R, McPherson BD (eds),Exercise, Fitness, & Health. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1990, 147–153.Google Scholar
  23. (23).
    Paffenbarger RS, Blair SN, Lee I, Hyde RT: Measurement of physical activity to assess health effects in free-living populations.Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1993,25:60–70.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. (24).
    Claytor RP: Stress reactivity: Hemodynamic adjustments in trained and untrained humans.Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1991,23(7):873–881.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. (25).
    Holmes DS, Roth DL: Association of aerobic fitness with pulse rate and subjective responses to psychological stress.Psychophysiology. 1985,22(5):525–529.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. (26).
    Cox R: Exercise training and response to stress: Insights from an animal model.Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1991,23(7):853–859PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. (27).
    Sothmann MS, Horn TS, Hart BA, Gustafson AB: Comparison of discrete cardiovascular fitness groups on plasma catecholamine and selected behavioral responses to psychological stress.Psychophysiology. 1987,24(1):47–54.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. (28).
    Carmack CL, Amaral-Melendez M, Boudreaux E, et al: Exercise as a component in the physical and psychological rehabilitation of hemodialysis patients.International Journal of Rehabilitation and Health. 1995,1(1):13–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. (29).
    King AC, Taylor CB, Haskell WL: Effects of differing intersities and formats of 12 months of exercise training on psychological outcomes in older adults.Health Psychology. 1993,12(4):292–300.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. (30).
    Sime WE: Exercise in the prevention and treatment of depression. In Morgan WP, Goldston SE (eds).Exercise and Mental Health. Washington, DC: Hemisphere Publishing Corporation, 1987, 145–152.Google Scholar
  31. (31).
    Roth DL, Holmes DS: Influence of physical fitness in determining the impact of stressful life events on physical and psychologic health.Psychosomatic Medicine. 1985,47:164–173.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. (32).
    Brown JD, Siegel JM: Exercise as a buffer of life stress: A prospective study of adolescent health.Health Psychology, 1988,7:341–353.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. (33).
    Brantley PJ, Jones GN, Boudreaux E, Catz SL: The Weekly Stress Inventory. In Zalaquett CP, Wood RJ (eds),Evaluating Stress: A Book of Resources. Landham: Scarecrow Press, 1997, 405–420.Google Scholar
  34. (34).
    Rowlinson RT, Felner RD: Major life events, hassles, and adaptation in adolescence: Confounding in the conceptualization and measurement of life stress and adjustment revisited.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1988,55:432–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. (35).
    Dohrenwend B: Problems in defining and sampling the relevant population of stressful life events. In Dohrenwend B, Dohrenwend B (eds),Stressful Life Events: Their nature and Effects, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1974, 275–310.Google Scholar
  36. (36).
    Dohrenwend B, Dodson M, Dohrenwend B, Shrout P: Symptoms, hassles, social support, and life events: Problems of confounding measures.Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 1984,93:222–239.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. (37).
    Kanner AD, Coyne JC, Schaefer C, Lazarus RS: Comparisons of two models of stress masurement: Daily hassles and uplifts versus major life events.Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 1981,4:1–39.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. (38).
    Sarason I, Johnson J, Siegel J: Assessing the impact of life changes: Development of the Life Experiences Survey.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 1978,5:932–946.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. (39).
    Grant L, Sweetwood H, Gerst MS, Yager J: Scaling procedures in life events research.Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 1978,22:525–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. (40).
    McNair DM, Lorr M, Droppleman LF:EDITS Manual for the Profile of Mood States—Revised. San Diego, CA: Educational & Industrial Testing Service, 1992.Google Scholar
  41. (41).
    Wahler HJ:The Wahler Physical Symptoms Inventory Manual. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services, 1983.Google Scholar
  42. (42).
    Jones GN:The Relation Between Daily Stress and Health. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Louisiana State University, 1988.Google Scholar
  43. (43).
    Kriska AM, Knowler WC, LaPorte RE, et al: Development of questionnaire to examine relationship of physical activity and diabetes in Pima Indians.Diabetes Care. 1990,13:401–408.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. (44).
    Vieweg B, Hedlund J: The General Health Questionnaire (GHQ): A comprehensive review.Journal of Operational Psychiatry. 1983,13:71–72.Google Scholar
  45. (45).
    Gage LW, Leidy NK: Screening for psychosocial distress: Implications for prevention and health promotion.Public Health Nursing. 1991,8:267–275.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. (46).
    American College of Sports Medicine:Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. Philadelphia, PA: Lea and Febiger, 1988.Google Scholar
  47. (47).
    Pate RR, Pratt M, Blair SN, et al: Physical activity and public health: A recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine.Journal of the American Medical Association. 1995,273(5):402–407.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. (48).
    Bahrke MS, Morgan WP: Anxiety reduction following exercise and medication.Cognitive Therapy and Research. 1978,2:323–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. (49).
    Morgan WP: Affective beneficence of vigorous physical activity.Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1985,17:94–100.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. (50).
    Martinsen EW, Stephens T: Exercise and mental health in clinical and free-living populations. In Dishman RK (ed),Advances in Exercise Adherence. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1994, 55–72.Google Scholar
  51. (51).
    Fletcher GF, Blair SN, Blumenthal J, et al: Statement on exercise: Benefits and recommendations for physical activity programs for all Americans.Circulation. 1992,86:340–344.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Society of Behavioral Medicine 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cindy L. Carmack
    • 1
  • Carl de Moor
    • 1
  • Edwin Boudreaux
    • 2
  • Marta Amaral-Melendez
    • 3
  • Phillip J. Brantley
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Behavioral ScienceUniversity of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer CenterHouston
  2. 2.Louisiana State UniversityUSA
  3. 3.Ohio UniversityUSA
  4. 4.Pennington Biomedical Research CenterPenningtonUSA

Personalised recommendations