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Article

Commercially available wearable activity trackers are small, non-invasive electronic devices that are worn on the body for the purposes of monitoring a range of outcomes including steps, energy expenditure, and sleep. These devices utilize sensors to track movement, and these recorded data are provided to the user via a visual display on the device itself and/or by syncing the device with an accompanying app or web-based program. Combined together, these devices and accompanying apps incorporate a broad range of behavior change techniques that are known to change behavior, including self-monitoring, goal setting, and social support. In recent years, wearable activity trackers have become increasingly popular, and the growth in ownership within different populations has occurred at an exponential rate. This growth in appeal has led to researchers and practitioners examining the validity and reliability of wearable activity trackers for measuring a range of outcomes and integrating the results into physical activity promotion strategies. Acceptable validity has been reported for steps and moderate validity for measuring energy expenditure. However, little research has examined whether wearable activity trackers are a feasible and effective method for changing physical activity behaviors in the short- and longer-term, either alone or in combination with additional strategies. Some initial results are promising, though concerns have been raised over longer-term use and impacts on motivation for physical activity. There is a need for research examining the longer-term use of wearable activity trackers in different population groups, and establishing whether this technology has any positive effects on physical activity levels.

Article

Exercise is known to exert an influence on pain. Specifically, sensitivity to pain decreases both during and following a single bout of exercise—a phenomenon that has been termed exercise-induced hypoalgesia (EIH). EIH has been shown to occur following a variety of types of exercise including aerobic, dynamic resistance, as well as intermittent and continuous isometric exercise, and with a variety of types of pain stimuli including pressure, thermal, and electrical, among others. Depending upon the type of exercise, the intensity and duration of the exercise bout may affect the magnitude of EIH observed. EIH also may be influenced by presence of chronic pain. In individuals with chronic pain conditions, exercise can have both hypo- and hyperalgesic effects, again depending on the specifics of the exercise stimulus itself. The mechanisms underlying EIH have not been definitively established. However, a number of potentially viable mechanisms have been examined including: release of stress mediators such as adrenocorticotrophic hormone and growth hormone (GH), stimulation of the endogenous opioid system, interactions between the pain modulatory system and the cardiovascular system resulting from shared neurological pathways, activation of the endocannabinoid (eCB) system, and engagement of supraspinal pain inhibitory mechanisms via conditioned pain modulation (CPM). There is also some evidence that psychosocial factors, including pain-related beliefs like catastrophizing and expectation, may influence EIH. Research in EIH has several important implications for research and practice. In healthy adults, reduced sensitivity to pain is a salient benefit of exercise and EIH responses may play a role in exercise adherence. For chronic pain patients, research on EIH has the potential to uncover mechanisms related to maintenance of chronic pain. Improving our understanding of how and why hyperalgesia occurs following exercise in these patients can aid in understanding central nervous system mechanisms of disease maintenance and ultimately may help to avoid symptom exacerbation with exercise. However, there remain practical and mechanistic questions to be examined. Translating reductions in pain sensitivity that occur with exercise under controlled laboratory conditions to situations that are more naturalistic will be an important next step for promoting physical activity as a treatment for pain.

Article

Felipe B. Schuch and Brendon Stubbs

Depression is a leading cause of global burden affecting people across all ages, genders, and socioeconomic groups. Antidepressants are the cornerstone of treatment, yet treatment response is often inadequate. While some psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy can also help alleviate depressive symptoms, alternative and complimentary treatment options are required. In particular, therapeutic interventions that also address the greatly increased levels of obesity and cardiovascular disease among people with depression may offer added value. With the rising burden of premature mortality due to cardiovascular disease in people with depression and promising evidence base for physical activity to improve depressive symptoms, it is important to review the role, benefits, and underlying neurobiological responses of exercise among people with depression. There has been a growing body of evidence to suggest that higher levels of physical activity reduce a person’s risk of incident depression. It appears that lower levels of cardiorespiratory fitness increase an individual risk of depression, suggesting that physical activity and physical fitness have a key role in the prevention of depression. Moreover, exercise can improve depressive symptoms in those with subthreshold depressive symptoms and major depressive disorder. Despite the effectiveness of exercise, the optimal dose and frequency are yet to be fully elucidated. Nonetheless, exercise appears to be well accepted by people with depression, with relatively low levels of dropout from interventions, particularly when supervised by qualified professionals with expertise in exercise prescription. Various barriers to engaging in exercise exist and motivational strategies are essential to initiate and maintain exercise. A number of hypotheses have been postulated to determine the antidepressant effect of exercise; however, most are based on animal models or models elucidated from people without depression. Therefore, future representative research is required to elucidate the neurobiological antidepressant response from exercise in people with depression. Physical activity interventions targeting fitness should be a central part of the prevention and management of depression. In particular, physical activity interventions offer a viable option to prevent and address cardiometabolic abnormalities and cardiovascular disease, which account for a significant amount of premature deaths in this population and are not addressed by standard pharmacological and psychological therapies.

Article

Psychological stress disorders, such as depression and chronic anxiety contribute to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. Acute psychological and physical stress exacerbate the activity of sympathetic-adrenal-medullary system, resulting in the elevation of cardiovascular responses (i.e., heart rate and blood pressure), along with augmented inflammation and oxidative stress as major causes of endothelial and metabolic dysfunction. The potential health benefits of regular physical activity mitigate excessive inflammation and oxidative stress. Along with physical exercise, complementary interventions, such as dietary modification are needed to enhance exercise effectiveness in improving these outcomes. Specifically, dietary modification reduces sympathetic nervous system activity, improve mitochondrial redox function, and minimize oxidative stress as well as chronic inflammation.

Article

Nikos Ntoumanis, Cecile Thørgersen-Ntoumani, Eleanor Quested, and Nikos Chatzisarantis

Compelling evidence worldwide suggests that the number of physically inactive individuals is high, and it is increasing. Given that lack of physical activity has been linked to a number of physical and mental health problems, identifying sustainable, cost-effective, and scalable initiatives to increase physical activity has become a priority for researchers, health practitioners, and policymakers. One way to identify such initiatives is to use knowledge derived from psychological theories of motivation and behavior change. There is a plethora of such theories and models that describe a variety of cognitive, affective, and behavioral mechanisms that can target behavior at a conscious or an unconscious level. Such theories have been applied, with varying degrees of success, to inform exercise and physical activity interventions in different life settings (e.g., schools, hospitals, and workplaces) using both traditional (e.g., face-to-face counseling and printed material) and digital technology platforms (e.g., smartphone applications and customized websites). This work has offered important insights into how to create optimal motivational conditions, both within individuals and in the social environments in which they operate, to facilitate long-term engagement in exercise and physical activity. However, we need to identify overlap and synergies across different theoretical frameworks in an effort to develop more comprehensive, and at the same time more distinct, theoretical accounts of behavior change with reference to physical activity promotion. It is also important that researchers and practitioners utilize such theories in interdisciplinary research endeavors that take into account the enabling or restrictive role of cultural norms, the built environment, and national policies on physical activity.

Article

The Paralympics are the pinnacle of sporting competition for athletes with physical and intellectual impairments. Most Paralympians have intellectual or sensory (e.g., visual) or physical (e.g., amputation, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy) impairments. The Paralympics have become increasingly competitive and larger over the years as they have grown from two countries and 150 athletes in 1952 to 150 countries and about 4,000 athletes in 2012. In the last 10 to 20 years there has been significant interest and growth in the psychology of Paralympic athletes. Researchers are slowly starting to support the value of psychological skills training. Typically, a humanistic personal developmental model that equally values athletes’ well-being and their athletic performance has been advocated. Understanding the various influences on performance and well-being specifically for Paralympians is particularly important given the stress of the Paralympic experience. Research on Paralympians has focused on foundational qualities, which are psychological factors, such as feelings of control, self-awareness, self-esteem, and personality factors. Often these foundation qualities are framed as having an indirect influence on performance through factors like training quality and lifestyle choices (e.g., alcohol consumption). In additional to foundational qualities, a second area of research targets the psychological methods that are used to develop mental skills and qualities. For instance, competition plans, positive self-talk, and goal setting are all methods used to enhance positive thoughts (e.g., confidence) and reduce negative affect (e.g., anxiety). A third area of focus has to do with facilitative and debilitative factors that influence Paralympic performance. For instance, many Paralympians have to manage chronic pain and avoid overtraining and injury. Many Paralympians have difficulty training, as sport facilities are not always accessible for training. Travel to competition sites, especially involving air travel (with effects such as jet lag), is particularly challenging and can negatively influence performance. Sleeping in the Paralympic village can also be difficult, with many athletes reporting inferior sleep quality. Finally, a small body of research has examined the challenges Paralympians face when retiring from sport.

Article

Cardiovascular disease has been estimated to be responsible for over 30% of deaths worldwide. The traditional cardiovascular risk factors of smoking, obesity, diabetes, physical inactivity, and family history predict about 50% of the variance of new cardiovascular disease cases; therefore, a number of other risk factors must contribute to cardiovascular disease development. One such factor is psychological stress, which has been identified as playing a role in the development of cardiovascular disease. The major research strategy for assessing the impact of psychological stress on cardiovascular disease development is to measure cardiovascular reactivity to laboratory mental stressors. Exaggerated mental stress-induced cardiovascular reactivity and slow stressor recovery have been associated with the development of cardiovascular disease. In contrast to exposure to psychological stress, there is strong evidence that participation in aerobic exercise leads to a reduction in cardiovascular disease. Participation in regular aerobic exercise generally reduces the cardiovascular response to acute exercise; therefore, researchers have hypothesized that the ability of aerobic exercise to enhance cardiovascular health works partly by modifying the cardiovascular reactivity response to mental stressors. There is mixed evidence to suggest that chronic aerobic exercise decreases or increases cardiovascular reactivity to mental challenge in normotensive, healthy individuals. A decrease in reactivity, however, has been found in those studies that have examined individuals at risk of disease or diseased adults. The optimal volume and intensity of aerobic exercise that brings about maximum decreases in cardiovascular reactivity has yet to be determined. The impact of other forms of exercise on reactivity such as resistance exercise and interval sprinting exercise is starting to be assessed. The challenge for researchers in this area is to identify the mode of exercise that takes the least amount of time but brings about the greatest reduction of levels of stress-induced cardiovascular disease.

Article

As technology advances and offers enjoyable sedentary alternatives to sport, active recreation, and transportation, there is a growing need to understand and harness the drivers of physical activity and exercise among children and adolescents. Determining how youth perceive their physical capabilities and their opportunities and what motivates them to be physically active can provide essential information for teachers, coaches, youth leaders, and program planners who are interested in promoting physical activity. Several well-established and also more recently developed behavioral theories offer numerous avenues to gaining a better understanding of the perceptions and motivation of youth with respect to physical activity and exercise behavior, including the social ecological model, social cognitive theory, self-determination theory, habit theory, dual-process theory, and nudge theory, among others. Children and adolescents have individual characteristics that influence their perceptions, motivations, and behavior. They also exist within a multilayered ecological context that helps to shape those perceptions, motivations, and behavior. For youth to be sufficiently physically active and thereby help to reach their full potential, the environment must be conducive to consistent routines of physical activity. Such an environment can be designed to provide easily accessible and enjoyable opportunities for youth to fulfill their basic psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence to be physically active. There is potential for technology to contribute positively toward the design of conducive environments, and toward fostering motivation and enjoyment of exercise and physical activity among children and adolescents.

Article

Aaron L. Slusher and Edmund O. Acevedo

Physical activity is essential for optimal human functioning. However, the emergence of modern lifestyle conveniences has contributed to the increased prevalence of sedentary behavior. As a result, the psychobiological nature of physical activity and the positive impact of physical activity on body and brain communication has prompted investigators to utilize a breadth of research strategies and techniques to identify physical activity regimes, associated mental health benefits, and the plausible mechanisms that explain the mental health adaptations. Furthermore, investigators have provided evidence supporting a number of mechanisms that at least partially explain the psychological adaptations to acute (a single bout) and chronic (long-term) physical activity intervention. Through these efforts, the observed efficacy of physical activity as a potential therapeutic intervention strategy to ameliorate the most prevalent mental disorders (i.e., anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia), and to enhance mental illness-related and age-related impairments of cognitive function has received some attention in the literature and will likely lead to clarity and confidence for clinical use.

Article

Healthy aging is associated with changes in sensory, motor, cognitive, and emotional functions. Such changes depend on various factors. In particular, physical activity not only improves physical and motor but also cognitive and emotional functions. Observational (i.e., associations) and cross-sectional studies generally show a positive effect of regular physical exercise on cognition in older adults. Most longitudinal randomized controlled intervention studies also show positive effects, but the results are inconsistent due to large heterogeneity of methodological setups. Positive changes accompanying physical activity mainly impact executive functions, memory functions, and processing speed. Several factors influence the impact of physical activity on cognition, mainly the type and format of the activity. Strength training and aerobic training yield comparable but also differential benefits, and all should be used in physical activities. Also, a combination of physical activity with cognitive activity appears to enhance its effect on cognition in older age. Hence, such combined training approaches are preferable to homogeneous trainings. Studies of brain physiology changes due to physical activity show general as well as specific effects on certain brain structures and functions, particularly in the frontal cortex and the hippocampus, which are those areas most affected by advanced age. Physical activity also appears to improve cognition in patients with mild cognitive dysfunction and dementia and often ameliorates the disease symptoms. This makes physical training an important intervention for those groups of older people. Apart from cognition, physical activity leads to improvement of emotional functions. Exercise can lead to improvement of psychological well-being in older adults. Most importantly, exercise appears to reduce symptoms of depression in seniors. In future intervention studies it should be clarified who profits most from physical activity. Further, the conditions that influence the cognitive and emotional benefits older people derive from physical activity should be investigated in more detail. Finally, measures of brain activity that can be easily applied should be included as far as possible.

Article

Sayaka Aritake-Okada and Sunao Uchida

Research indicates that both acute and chronic physical activity improve sleep. Effects on sleep include prolongation of total sleep time, slow wave sleep increase, rapid eye movement sleep decrease, wake after sleep onset reduction, and shortened sleep latency. However, detailed biological mechanisms of these effects have not been well elucidated. Past studies strongly suggest that the sleep-promoting effect of exercise could be multifactorial. Increase of slow wave sleep, which has been repeatedly reported, strongly suggests physical activity effects on central nervous system function. Physical activity also elevates body temperature, alters glucose, and impacts other metabolic regulations. Habitual exercise also alters autonomic nervous system predominance measured by heart rate variability.

Article

Clinton Gahwiler, Lee Hill, and Valérie Grand’Maison

Since the 1970s, significant growth globally has occurred in the related fields of sport, exercise, and performance psychology. In Southern Africa, however, this growth has occurred unevenly and, other than isolated pockets of interest, there has been little teaching, research, or practice. South Africa is an exception, however, even during the years of apartheid. A number of international sport psychology pioneers in fact visited South Africa during the 1970s on sponsored trips. Virtually all this activity took place in the economically advantaged sectors of the country, and it is only since the end of apartheid in 1994 that applied services have been extended to the economically disadvantaged areas through both government and private funding. The 2010s have also seen a growing awareness in other Southern African countries, which have begun sporadically using (mainly foreign-based) sport psychology consultants. Among these countries, Botswana is currently leading the way in developing locally based expertise. Throughout the Southern African region, sport, exercise, and performance psychology remain organizationally underdeveloped and unregulated. Local researchers and practitioners in the field face unique challenges, including a multicultural environment and a lack of resources. In working to overcome these challenges, however, they have the potential to significantly add value to the global knowledge base of sport, exercise, and performance psychology.

Article

Nancy A. Pachana, Nicola W. Burton, Deirdre McLaughlin, and Colin A. Depp

Research on healthy aging has begun to address mental health issues in later life. Despite the debates about exactly what constitutes healthy aging and which are the most useful or valid determinants of this construct to study, there is substantial evidence for several determinants of successful aging, including physical activity, cognitive stimulation, and social networks. All three of these determinants support mental health, including cognition, in later life. Resilience is another construct that plays an important role in healthy aging, but it has not received as much research attention at the end of life as in earlier periods. Factors that reduce the risk of mental distress or promote resilience with respect to mental health in the face of challenges in later life remain fruitful areas for further investigations.

Article

Brian C. Focht and Ciaran M. Fairman

Health-related quality of life (HRQL) is a multidimensional subcomponent of quality of life involving subjective appraisal of various dimensions of one’s life that can be affected by health or health-related interventions. There is considerable evidence demonstrating that exercise consistently results in meaningful improvements in an array of HRQL outcomes. Advances in the conceptualization of HRQL and recent evidence identifying select moderators and mediators of the effects of upon HRQL outcomes have important implications for the design and delivery of exercise interventions. Taken collectively, contemporary findings support the utility of adopting a hierarchical, bottom-up approach to the investigation of the effects of exercise upon HRQL.