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BRANCH, D.R. (1999). Short-term and Long-term Exercise: an Examination of Self-esteem. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 2. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 26, 2023 .

Short-term and Long-term Exercise: an Examination of Self-esteem

Sponsored by: JANIE WILSON (JHWilson@GaSoU.edu)
Exercise not only improves health and promotes good health maintenance, but may also increase emotional stability and self-esteem. The present study examined self-esteem of young adults following short-term and long-term exercise. It was hypothesized that short- term exercise would cause an increase in self-esteem relative to no exercise during the experiment. It was further hypothesized that a large amount of long-term exercise would be related to high self-esteem as compared with a small amount. Although short-term exercise in this study did not alter self-esteem, this may have been due to the short duration and low intensity of the exercise utilized during the experiment. Similarly, long- term exercise did not alter self-esteem. As this was a subject variable reported by participants, the social desirability response bias may have affected the results.

Self-esteem is one`s global evaluation of one`s worth as a person (Weiten & Lloyd, 1997). Psychologists believe that self-esteem plays a very important role in one`s attitude. When people have a positive attitude toward themselves, they are considered to have high self-esteem, while those who view themselves in a negative way are shown to have low self-esteem (Weiten & Lloyd, 1997). Low self-esteem and related negative attitudes toward oneself seems to promote loneliness, and people with low self-esteem and high anxiety have a tendency to report more symptoms of illness than others (Weiten & Lloyd, 1997). High self-esteem is associated with good physical health and well-being (McAuley, Mihalko, & Bane, 1997). Although parenting seems to be an important contributor to self-esteem (leaving psychologists to believe that self-esteem is laid out early in life), psychologists feel that people can increase their self-esteem in any stage of life (Weiten & Lloyd, 1997).High self-esteem can positively influence many aspects of life and has been studied in relation to coping with stress. To determine if self-esteem had an influence on physiological responses to stress, 29 first-year undergraduate female students were studied (Rector & Roger, 1997). Six to 8 weeks prior to the experiment, participants were given the Rosenberg Self-esteem Inventory to determine the self-esteem of participants. In the experiment, participants were asked to read a passage of a novel and were told that they would be measured on accuracy of expression and correctness in describing the story (Rector & Roger, 1997). They were told that cameras and other equipment were being used to examine their performance, and the researcher delayed the experiment so to increase their anxiety level. While the task was being performed, students` heart-rates were measured (Rector & Roger, 1997). Rector and Roger (1997) found that students considered to have high self-esteem had lower heart-rates during the performance than students considered to have low self-esteem. These results suggest that participants with high self-esteem did not suffer from a strong physiological response to stress.Physiological functions of the body may be further improved by exercise (Weinberg & Gould, 1995). Exercise is considered to be a more intensive physical activity than the normal activities of daily living (Fontane, 1996). There are two main types of exercise: aerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise (Weinberg & Gould, 1995). Aerobic exercise is physical activity that increases the activity of the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems (Weinberg & Gould, 1995). It requires an increase in oxygen to be used and transported to the muscles (Weinberg & Gould, 1995). Aerobic exercise includes activities such as brisk walking, running, swimming and step aerobics (Weinberg & Gould, 1995). Aerobic activities are usually performed to achieve physical fitness and to improve one`s appearance (Van Vugt, Howard, & Claire, 1998). Conversely, anaerobic exercise is physical activity of a shorter duration and of less intensity than aerobic exercise (Weinberg & Gould, 1995). It does not require an increase in oxygen to be used and transported to the muscles (Weinberg & Gould, 1995). Activities of anaerobic exercise include weight lifting, golf, bowling and baseball (Weinberg & Gould, 1995). Improved health and good health maintenance is one of the most important benefits of physical activity (Fontane, 1996). For example, exercise can decrease the likelihood of developing diseases such as cardiovascular disease and adult- onset diabetes (Fontane, 1996).

In addition to physical health, exercise improves mental health and has been shown to improve one`s physical self-concept (Marsh & Sonstroem, 1995). Participants in Marsh and Sonstroem`s (1995) study reported the amount of physical activity they engaged in each week and the intensity level of the exercise. Their physical self-concept was measured with Fox`s Physical Self-Perception Profile (Marsh & Sonstroem, 1995). The study resulted in a positive relationship between exercise and physical self-concept (Marsh & Sonstroem, 1995). Other benefits of exercise include a decrease in anxiety and depression and an increase in emotional stability and self-esteem (Weinberg & Gould, 1995). Wilcox (1997) found that exercise also had a positive influence on the perception of aging. In addition to the aged population, studies that have been performed on breast cancer survivors indicate a positive relationship between exercise and self-esteem (Baldwin & Courneya, 1997). Sixty-four female volunteers from four breast cancer support groups, participants were rated on self-esteem by the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Inventory and on exercise participation by the Godin Leisure Time Exercise Questionnaire. Results indicated that participants who exercised more often and at strenuous levels had higher self-esteem than participants who exercised less frequently, at less strenuous levels, or not at all (Baldwin & Courneya, 1997). Similarly, middle-aged adults signify improved self-esteem with exercise (Brown, Wang, Ward, & Ebbeling, 1995). Participants were 69 women and 66 men who were healthy, sedentary adults between the ages of 40 and 69. Participants were randomly assigned to five groups: moderate intensity walking (65%-75% of heart rate reserve, 30- 40 minutes, 3 times per week), low intensity walking (45-55% heart rate reserve, 40-50 minutes, 3 times per week), low intensity walking plus the relaxation response (wore headphones to listen to tape which gave instructions using a quiet voice and relatively slow cadence), mindful exercise (Tai- Chi type activity for 45 minutes, 3 times per week) and a control group (no exercise program) (Brown et al., 1995). In women, the mindful exercise group resulted in a decrease in anger and mood disturbances and greater reduction in tension and confusion. An increase in self-esteem was reported from the moderate-intensity walking group (Brown et al., 1995). In men, the moderate-intensity walking group resulted in greater improvements in mood and showed a higher global self-esteem (Brown et al., 1995).Just as in the middle-aged group, pre-adolescent and adolescent females indicate a positive relationship between exercise and global self-esteem (Boyd & Hrycaiko, 1997). Participants completed the Self Description Questionnaire to determine their self- esteem. They were randomly assigned to either the experimental group or the control group (Boyd & Hrycaiko, 1997). The experimental group participated in 40 minute classes of strength training exercises and cardiovascular endurance activities for six weeks. The control group continued their regular physical activity classes (Boyd & Hrycaiko, 1997). At the end of the six weeks, participants were once again given the Self Description Questionnaire to determine their self-esteem. A significant increase in global self-esteem was indicated in the pre-adolescent females (Boyd & Hrycaiko, 1997).Finally, young adults signified a higher self-esteem than hypothesized (Iannos & Tiggeman, 1997). Iannos and Tiggeman (1997) studied 106 men and 99 women with a mean age of 27.8 years. They hypothesized that participants who were excessive exercisers would have a dysfunctional personality profile like people with eating disorders, thus predicting low self-esteem. Excessive exercisers exercised a mean of 8.99 hours per week compared to moderate or light exercisers who exercised a mean of 3.11 hours per week (Iannos & Tiggeman, 1997). Results concluded that excessive exercisers were similar to moderate or light exercisers in personality and showed a much higher self-esteem than predicted (Iannos & Tiggeman, 1997).In the present study, young adults were asked to either sit quietly or exercise lightly for seven minutes. In addition, participants reported the amount of exercise in which they engage in on a regular basis. The researcher hypothesized that a large amount of long-term exercise would be related to higher self-esteem than a small amount. It was further hypothesized that participants who exercised during the experiment would indicate an increase in self-esteem as compared to the control group. Also, the researcher hypothesized that participants who exercise a large amount on his/her own and who exercised during the experiment would have the highest self-esteem of the four groups tested.


Thirty-seven undergraduate psychology majors from a southeastern university participated in this study. Participants volunteered to be in the experiment and included students from either a psychological-statistics class or a research-methods class. Participants were 32 females and 5 males with a GPA ranging from 2.0 to 4.0.

Participants completed an informed-consent form. After the forms were collected, a questionnaire was distributed asking the participants to record the amount of exercise in which they participate in each week. Amount of exercise recorded was operationalized into 0-2 hours signifying a small amount and more than 2 hours signifying a large amount. Participants were then divided into one of two groups. In one group, participants were asked to stretch and flex muscles for 7 minutes, and the other group did not exercise. Participants were then asked to complete the Rosenberg Self-esteem Inventory questionnaire to determine their self-esteem. Questionnaires were collected, and participants were debriefed on the nature of the study and thanked for their participation.

A 2 x 2 ANOVA, between-subjects design was used to analyze these data. Short- term exercise did not significantly alter self-esteem [F(1,33)=.46, p>.05] (See Figure 1), with short-term exercise consisting of no exercise (M=35.63, SD=6.00) and 7 minutes of stretches and flexing muscle (M=33.67, SD=5.24). Similarly, long-term exercise did not affect high self-esteem [F(1,33)=.28,p>.05] (See Figure 2). Long-term exercise included participants who exercise a large amount (M=35.76, SD=4.01), and participants who exercise a small amount (M=33.25, SD=7.17) on a regular basis. Also, short-term exercise and long-term exercise did not significantly interact to alter self-esteem [F(1,33)=.99,p>.05]. Short-term exercise and long-term exercise included participants in the control group who exercise a large amount (M=36.31, SD=4.20) and those who exercise a small amount (M=34.17, SD=9.15). It also included participants in the experimental group who exercise a large amount (M=34.88, SD=3.80) and those who exercise a small amount (M=32.70, SD=6.18) on a regular basis.

The present study examined the effects of short-term and long-term exercise on self-esteem. It was hypothesized that short-term and long-term exercise would alter self- esteem, and the two variables would interact to also alter self-esteem. Unfortunately, the study did not reach these conclusions. Short-term exercise did not increase self-esteem above no immediate exercise. This result may be explained by the short duration of the exercise. Participants exercised for only 7 minutes during the experiment. This may not have been an adequate amount of time to exercise and receive the benefits of exercise. Forty to 50 minutes over a period of at least 6 weeks is a more adequate time to exercise to increase self-esteem as shown in the study with middle-aged adults (Brown et al., 1995) and pre-adolescent females (Boyd & Hrycaiko, 1997). Future studies should have participants exercise for at least 40 minutes over a span of at least 6 weeks. Exercise during the experiment was of low intensity which may be another possible explanation why short-term exercise did not alter self-esteem. Exercise consisted mainly of stretches and in most cases was not of enough intensity to increase the activity of the pulmonary and cardiovascular system of participants. Future research should include participants exercising at a moderate intensity level, which is 65%-75% of heart rate reserve (Brown et al., 1995). When this rate is achieved, self-esteem may be increased for both men and women (Brown et al., 1995).

Long-term exercise did not affect self-esteem. A possible reason for this is that long-term exercise was not manipulated or monitored by the researcher. The problem with this is there is no way to know for sure if the amount of long-term exercise was correctly reported by the participant. Future studies should monitor the amount of exercise over an extended period of time. For example, Boyd & Hrycaiko (1997) monitored participants who exercised for 40 minutes over a span of 6 weeks and found significant increase in global self-esteem among pre-adolescent females. Another possible reason for long-term exercise not increasing self-esteem is the social desirability response. Participating in exercise is viewed as a positive activity in daily living; therefore, participants may have been influenced to report the amount of exercise inaccurately to look socially desirable. This problem could also be solved by monitoring or manipulating the amount of exercise in future studies.Short-term exercise and long-term exercise did not interact to affect self-esteem. This may have been possibly due to error variance. First, participants in a bad mood that particular day would most likely rate their self-esteem as low. Second, gender of the participant might also have had an influence. Since males are known to have higher self- esteem than females this might have altered the results. Third, it is also possible that participants with a high GPA tend to have high self-esteem than participants with low GPA or vice versa. Fourth, the personality of the participant could have had an influence since some people have a neysaying or acquiescence response style. Finally, another variable that might have had an influence is if the participant had already exercised before the experiment. Any of these variables could have played a role in short-term and long-term exercise not interacting to alter self-esteem.

Baldwin, M. K., & Courneya, K. S. (1997). Exercise and self-esteem in breast cancer survivors: An application of the exercise and self-esteem model. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 19(4), 347-358. Boyd, K. R., & Hrycaiko, D. W. (1997). The effect of physical activity intervention package on the self-esteem of pre-adolescent and adolescent females. Adolescence, 32(127), 693-708. Brown, D. R., Wang, Y., Ward, A., & Ebbeling, C. B. (1995). Chronic psychological effects of exercise and exercise plus cognitive strategies. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 27(5), 765-775. Fontane, P. E. (1996). Exercise, fitness, feeling well. American Behavioral Scientist, 39(3), 288-305. Iannos, M., & Tiggeman, M. (1997). Personality of the excessive exerciser. Personality and Individual Differences, 22(5), 775-778. Marsh, H. W., & Sonstroem, R. J. (1995). Importance ratings and specific components of physical self-concept: Relevance to predicting global components of self- concept and exercise. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 17(1), 84-104. McAuley, E., Mihalko, S. L., & Bane, S. M. (1997). Exercise and self-esteem in middle-aged adults: Multidimensional relationships and physical fitness and self- efficacy influences. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 20(1), 67-83. Rector, N. A., & Roger, D. (1997). The stress buffering effects of self-esteem. Personality & Individual Differences, 23(5), 799-808. Van Vugt, M., Howard, C., & Moss, S. (1998). Being better than some but not better than average: Self-enhancing comparisons in aerobics. British Journal of Social Psychology, 37(2), 185-201. Weinberg, R., & Gould, D. (1995). Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology. United States:Author. Weiten, W., & Lloyd, M. (1997). Psychology Applied to Modern Life (5th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole. Wilcox, S. (1997). Age and gender in relation to body attitudes: Is there a double standard of aging? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21(4), 549-565.

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