Psychosocial Discomfort and Exercise Frequency: An Epidemiological Study of Adolescents

Article excerpt

A growing body of research has related exercise to indicators of psychological health and well-being (Doan & Scherman, 1987; Folkins & Sime, 1981; McTeer & Curtis, 1990; Tucker, 1987a; Tucker, in press). Exercise appears to reduce depression and anxiety, diminish distress, and may serve to enhance general psychological functioning through the improvement of self-esteem (Morgan & Goldston, 1987; Scherman, 1989; Tucker, Cole, & Friedman, 1986; Tucker, 1983a, 1983b, 1983c, 1987b). However, this research has largely been limited to the study of white adult males (Dishman, Sallis, & Ornstein, 1985). Particularly noticeable is the absence of data on psychosocial characteristics associated with exercise among adolescents (Reynolds, Killen, Bryson, Maron, Taylor, Maccoby, & Farquhar, 1990).

Despite the wealth of evidence linking exercise and physical activity in general to specific indices of emotional well-being, many aspects of psychological functioning remain unexplored. Indicators of psychosocial discomfort, namely loneliness, shyness, and hopelessness have not been studied relative to their association with exercise, particularly among adolescents (Doan & Scherman, 1987). These indicators are important for fitness professionals since they may serve as either important antecedents or consequences of exercise.

Relationships between aspects of psychosocial discomfort and exercise frequency in adolescents may be confounded by body image factors such as perceived physical attractiveness, body mass index, and satisfaction with body weight. According to Tucker (1984), physical attributes and body characteristics may generate differential subjective evaluations which result in social exchange and feedback affecting ontogeny. Moreover, physical characteristics seem to stimulate differential expectations of others depending on the degree of perceived attractiveness (Berscheid & Walster, 1972; Lerner, 1969). As a consequence of receiving relatively consistent feedback from others based on physical appearance, physically attractive individuals are likely to develop a self-image, social temperament, and style of interpersonal behavior that differ from those who are unattractive (Tucker, 1983d, 1984).

Research shows that the mesomorphic somatotype is perceived as the most attractive and desirable in our culture, while the endomorphic type is coveted least (Hamachek, 1978; Staffieri, 1967; Tucker, 1983d, 1984). Since regular exercise fosters development of the mesomorphic build, adolescents who exercise frequently may develop fewer psychosocial problems than do their inactive counterparts. Thus, studies investigating relationships between frequency of exercise and psychosocial conditions should take into account factors related to perceptions of attractiveness and body weight.

The present study was conducted to determine the extent to which adolescents who report different levels of exercise frequency vary with respect to manifestations of loneliness, shyness, and hopelessness. Due to the hypothesized potential of the confounding effects, the need for statistical control was evaluated and appropriate control procedures applied.



Students in grades 9-12, enrolled in health classes at 12 senior high schools in the northwestern United States, comprised the sample for this study. All students in attendance on the days the survey took place were informed of the nature of the study and invited to participate on an anonymous basis. Very few students decided not to participate (|is less than~ 1%). A total of 1,297 students (630 females and 654 males) participated. The schools were selected from several counties representing both rural and urban areas. Approximately 90% of the sample were white, and the average age was 15.3 years (SD = 2.9). Thirteen respondents did not indicate their gender.


Subjects completed a self-administered survey form during their regularly scheduled health class. …


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