S.C. Coste, D.A. DeFrang, K.J. Franklin, D.C. Lee, T.J. Kinane & D.K. Canepa

Linfield College, McMinnville, OR

PURPOSE: Physical activity has been shown to have positive effects in reducing stress-related physiological responses and anxious behavior. This study sought to examine the effects of regular exercise on exam-related stress and anxiety during the final exam period of the semester in undergraduate college students. METHODS: Male (n=9) and female (n=18) college students completed an online exercise log each day for 7 weeks. Exercise type, duration and intensity for each daily exercise was quantified and used to classify students into low, moderate or vigorous exercise groups. Anthropometric (weight, height, body mass index) and fitness measures (Forestry step test for VO2max, maximum sit-ups, maximum push-ups, sit and reach flexibility, % body fat, heart rate and blood pressure) were measured prior to and at the end of the 7 week period. Salivary cortisol, anxiety (state-trait anxiety inventory), heart rate and blood pressure were measured at baseline and 30 min prior to a final exam. Variables were analyzed using repeated measures ANOVA with group as a between subjects factor. Pearson’s r was used to correlate fitness level with anxiety. RESULTS: Anxiety levels, heart rate and systolic blood pressure were significantly elevated 30 min prior to the final examination in all 3 exercise groups (p2max, max push-ups, max sit-ups) were significantly higher in the moderate and vigorous exercise groups compared to the low exercise group. Fitness levels did not significantly change across the 7 week period and were not significantly correlated with trait or state anxiety measures. CONCLUSION: We did not find a significant impact of exercise on exam related stress and anxiety, suggesting that moderate to vigorous exercise over time does not alleviate final exam week stress and/or anxiety. However, future studies with a larger sample size are necessary to increase statistical power to strengthen conclusions.

Supported by Linfield College Faculty Development Grant

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