A study, presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Baltimore, shows that exercise can allay the feeling of anger in a person. However, “the findings should be confirmed by larger studies to be taken as a recommendation," warns Nathaniel Thom, PhD, a contractor to the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, the lead researcher of the study. “The study has shown that exercise acts like a drug, preventing the induction of anger just like aspirin in the prevention of heart attack," adds Thom.
The study was conducted on 16 college-goers who were easily angered. Participants were asked to watch a slide show of pictures that is known to evoke angry feelings, like the picture of malnourished children, Hitler and Ku Klux Klan, before and after a 30-minute, moderate intensity cycling session. The pictures were mixed with images that would induce fear, pleasantness, or no emotions. They were asked to view the slides before and after 30 minutes of a relaxation session.
The participants were asked to rate their anger on a twenty point scale during different points of the study. In the angry scale, higher scores referred to more anger. The average score on the scale after viewing the slides on completion of an exercise session was 7 points, when compared to 6.3 before viewing the slides. Researchers feel that this slight difference is more due to chance. After resting, the scores increased to 8 points before viewing the slides and 10 points after watching the slide show, which makes a significant difference. Researchers feel that after exercising, watching the slides did not make them angrier, but resting made them feel angrier.
There was some disparity in few of the results. Exercise was not found to reduce the intensity of anger. An average score of 4.2 points was measured on the anger scale before the exercise when compared to 3.9 points after the exercise, which was a very small difference happening mostly due to chance. Moreover, there were no changes in the brain activity when the participants viewed violent pictures after a session of exercise.
Thom opines that “anger and aggression are associated with low levels of chemical serotonin in the brain. Many animal studies have shown that exercise may increase the levels of serotonin in brain." According to Sports physiologist Michael R. Bracko, EdD, director of the Institute for Hockey Research in Calgary, Canada, “the distraction offered by exercise can provide a calming effect to the person”. He says that “group exercise sessions or weight lifting can take the mind off from disturbing things and help the person to relieve anger”.
Researchers agree that more work needs to be done in this field; but if confirmed, the finding will have huge implications in public health.