The Cognitive and Somatic Benefits of Physical Exercise

Numerous studies have proven that physical exercise can improve both physical and mental health. The most commonly used tool for gauging decreases in anxiety resulting from aerobic activity is the state anxiety sub-scale of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (SAI). However, because anxiety is often related to feelings of threat, the results of the SAI, when self-reported, may not be entirely accurate. “One logical way to examine the construct validity of the SAI in response to exercise would be to assess the two dimensions of the SAI (cognitive and somatic) separately,” said Walter R. Bixby of the Department of Exercise Science at Elon University in North Carolina, and lead author of a recent study. “Therefore, the purpose of this investigation was to examine the two-dimensional nature of the SAI before, during, and following acute bouts of exercise.”

For his study, Bixby enlisted 32 non-smoking women who were in good health. “Specifically, participants completed two 30-minute bouts of aerobic exercise at low- and high-intensity,” Bixby said. “The SAI was administered at numerous points throughout the protocol allowing for thorough temporal resolution of self-reported anxiety.” He found that high-intensity activity resulted in increased anxiety during the exercise and decreased anxiety after. Additionally, lower impact exercise resulted in only decreased anxiety.

Bixby said, “For the cognitive factor, there was little to no change during a decrease following both the low- and high-intensity exercise, thus the negotiation of the exercise stimulus did not cause an increase in the cognitive appraisal of anxiety while a significant decrease in the cognitive appraisal of anxiety occurred following the exercise session.” He added, “For the somatic factor, a significant increase occurred during both the low- and high intensity exercise followed by a significant decrease during recovery.” Pelham added, “As exercise psychologists, an essential goal of the field is the discovery of the psychological changes associated with exercise, while reducing the artifact associated with assessment instruments. Only through a better understanding of the measures employed in exercise psychology will we be able to more clearly understand the affective response pattern during and following exercise.”

Bixby, Walter R., and Bradley D. Hatfield. “A Dimensional Investigation of the State Anxiety Inventory (SAI) in an Exercise Setting: Cognitive vs. Somatic.” Journal of Sport Behavior 34.4 (2011): 307-24. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jeff


    December 15th, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    I feel so much better on the days when I make the time to exercise. I always feel better about myself, and sleep like a log on those nights. Easy to see how those runners who say they get those natural highs feel, and why they continue. Once you get over the making yourself so it part, you feel so much better for it.

  • j.o.n


    December 15th, 2011 at 6:33 PM

    All I know is that when I eventually make myself get off the chair and go exercise I feel a hundred times better than I would have had I stayed sitting in it for the remainder of the night. A little goes a long way.

  • Laura


    December 16th, 2011 at 5:17 AM

    Sadly I don’t think that how many positive benefits that you talk about will be enough to get most people up and moving, even those who would seem to need it the most! There are just some things that for many would be crossing the line, and for many that line stops at exercise. I don’t know why. Maybe they are intimidated or feel like they are not going to enjoy it? They won’t even give it a little try.

  • dwayne f

    dwayne f

    December 16th, 2011 at 2:06 PM

    exercising has a host of benefits.constant everyday exercise makes me feel great while a few days without any exercise makes me feel low and drained. i almost automatically work out now and I dread the days I miss out on it…!

  • Dawn hughes

    Dawn hughes

    December 17th, 2011 at 7:42 AM

    Maybe docs should stop prescribing ambien and prescribe exercise instead

  • Donald


    December 19th, 2011 at 6:20 AM

    When you get into that groove with exercise, like I have done over the past ten years, you honestly feel lost on a day when you don’t get to get in anything fitness related. That does not mean that I have to go for a 5 mile workout every day or do my strength training, but I can’t sit around like a lump on a log either. Go for a walk with the family, take the dog on a little walk, just get up and get moving and do something. I promise that you will be amazed at how much better you feel! Yes you may hurt a little, but the best thing to do is to get up and do it again, and pretty soon you will be wondering how you ever went this long without it.

  • Robin


    August 28th, 2012 at 7:31 PM

    Excellent post. Going beyond just exercising and “tuning into” the body’s wisdom is so beneficial (and such a mission factor in today’s world.)

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