Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Angela D. Bryan

Second Advisor

Kent E. Hutchison

Third Advisor

Joanna J. Arch

Fourth Advisor

Douglas R. Seals

Fifth Advisor

Bernadette M. Park


The majority of American adults are insufficiently physically active, and variation in affective response to exercise partially explains levels of inactivity. Examining ways to improve affective response to physical activity is therefore an important direction for research aiming to promote exercise behavior. Two potential strategies that individuals might use to improve subjective response to exercise are mindfulness and distraction. This is the first study to directly compare the effects of each of these strategies on psychological response to exercise.

A sample of 54 insufficiently active individuals aged 18-40 were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: 1) mindfulness, 2) distraction, or 3) associative attentional focus. The study was divided into two phases, a laboratory session in which participants learned their assigned strategy and completed a 30-minute supervised exercise bout, and a two-week at-home intervention in which participants used their assigned strategy on their own while exercising for two weeks. At the end of the two-week period, participants completed a follow-up survey.

The central hypotheses were partially supported. Participants in both the mindfulness and distraction conditions generally had more positive subjective response to exercise compared to participants in the associative focus active control condition. However, contrary to hypotheses, participants in the distraction condition had more positive subjective responses compared to those in the mindfulness condition.

These findings suggest that individuals wishing to increase their cardiovascular exercise behavior would likely do well to find a method of distracting themselves while exercising to make the experience subjectively less difficult and more affectively pleasant. More research is needed in order to confidently recommend mindfulness as a strategy for managing exercise-related affect and improving maintenance of exercise behavior over time.