Rob Steger, “Cardiovascular Reactivity in Runners”
Mentors: Raymond Fleming & Hanna Johnson, Psychology
Regular cardiovascular exercise, such as running, is physiologically and psychologically protective against stress. Once accustomed to these positive effects, runners who are deprived of exercise exhibit increased stress responses during their period of deprivation, even in deprivation periods as short as 24 hours. Therefore, recreational runners tend to experience higher stress responses on rest days than on running days. The study recruited 20 runners (and 20 non-exercising controls) and monitored their physiological reactivity (including heart rate and heart rate variability), affect, and performance on a stress task on one running day and one rest day. Participants wore a monitoring device similar to a heart rate monitor for a period of four hours each day, completed brief intermittent mood questionnaires, and engaged in an acute stressor task (a five-minute period of simple addition problems). Runners reported greater positive affect and tranquility on running day than rest day. Analysis of physiological data is currently underway—it is expected that runners will exhibit greater physiological indices of stress on rest day than running day. This study contributes to the research on short-term exercise deprivation by assessing stress reactance on three dimensions and by collecting data in a naturalistic setting over an extended period of time. Preliminary results indicate that runners experience greater stress on non-running days than running days.