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Psychological effects of physical exercise and yoga

Aryeh Leonid Shestopal, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Popular biological and psychological theories strongly advocate that regular physical exercise brings about long-term and short-term psychological benefits. Similarly, Yoga tenets promise to generate significant improvements in psychological and physical health. However, considerate controversy exists, as rigorously designed experimental studies have consistently challenged the existence of a causal connection between physical activity and psychological changes. The current project was undertaken to test the hypothesis that physical activity moderates the students' experience of stress during an academic semester. The project suggested that psychological changes may take place as the students undergo changes in their physical self-concept. First, a quasi-experimental study assessed 97 students at a large state university, who either attended traditional physical education (PE) courses, enrolled in Yoga courses or abstained from physical activity. The students filled out self-report measures, at the beginning and the end of an academic semester. The results have showed that, at the beginning, all groups were similar in their psychological presentation but different in their attitude. The data obtained at the end of the semester suggested that, overall, the students' well-being did not change. However, contrast analyses showed that the Yoga students became more distressed than the exercise students, and that exercise students faired better than the control group. Also, the changes in psychological symptoms were significantly related to the changes in physical self-concept. Second, twenty structured interviews were conducted with the Yoga and exercise students. Qualitative analysis provided systematic description of the two groups, specifically of their motivation, stress, self-concept and the perceived effectiveness of their PE course. The results suggested that all students evaluated their PE courses as highly effective and beneficial. The statistical data has also supported a graphic model that connected the students' expectations, experience of stress and changes in self-concept. This model has shown that such connections are complex, and not direct one-to-one relationships. In conclusion, the project supported the hypothesis that physical activity brings about positive psychological benefits by promoting a change in physical self-concept. It showed strong similarities in the subjective experience of the Yoga and exercise students. The implications of such findings for clinical practice were discussed.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Mental health|Sports medicine

Recommended Citation

Shestopal, Aryeh Leonid, "Psychological effects of physical exercise and yoga" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9841923.