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Keywords:

  • interpersonal stress;
  • stress reactivity;
  • exercise;
  • physical activity;
  • children

Abstract

Objective: To determine whether interpersonal stress reduces youths’ motivation to exercise in a laboratory setting.

Research Methods and Procedures: Physical activity and sedentary behavior were measured in boys and girls across a control day, after reading children's magazines, and on a stress day, after giving a videotaped speech. For one analysis, children were divided into low (n = 12) and high (n = 13) heart-rate reactivity groups based on changes in heart rate to stress. In a second analysis, children were divided into low and high perceived level of stress based on changes in perceived stress. To determine differences in choice of exercise or sedentary behavior across the control and stress conditions, subjects chose either to exercise for progressively longer periods to earn a monetary reinforcer or to engage in a high-rated sedentary behavior.

Results: The choice to exercise was influenced by stress reactivity differently in the stress and control conditions. Low heart-rate reactive children participated in similar (p > 0.50) amounts of exercise on the stress and control days, but high heart-rate reactive children participated in less (p < 0.01) exercise (22.0 ± 2.5 vs. 26.3 ± 2.2 minutes) on the stress than control days. When grouped by change in perceived stress, there were no group differences, but subjects exercised longer (p < 0.01) on the control day than the stress day.

Discussion: Interpersonal stress decreased exercise in children susceptible to interpersonal stress. Stress-induced alterations in health behaviors may lead to weight gain in children.