The latest news in brief from the first number of 2011 from the journal, Health Psychology. Things are going to start happening now!
I’m not nearly convinced that physical activity for longer life is a true, important, or easy proposition, but physical activity does have other uses. And, if you do the research properly, you can find and demonstrate true, important, and relatively easy applications. Consider this fabulous effort by Davis, C. L., Tomporowski, P. D., McDowell, J. E., Austin, B. P., Miller, P. H., Yanasak, N. E., and Naglieri, J. A. They conducted a series of interlinked studies investigating the effects of exercise on overweight children for cognitive impact on executive function and achievement. I cannot do justice to the work in an abstract, but if you have any interest in physical activity or in doing great research, read this article. They actually use neuroimaging to demonstrate something other than they got a grant. Read this, too, if you are in love with the Observational Tooth Fairy and enthralled with those huge biased samples with Sophistical Statistical whizbangery – tell me you don’t see the scientific difference with this research.
Davis, C. L., Tomporowski, P. D., McDowell, J. E., Austin, B. P., Miller, P. H., Yanasak, N. E., and Naglieri, J. A. (2011). Exercise improves executive function and achievement and alters brain activation in overweight children: A randomized, controlled trial. Health Psychology, 30(1), 91-98.
Objective: This experiment tested the hypothesis that exercise would improve executive function. Design: Sedentary, overweight 7- to 11-year-old children (N = 171, 56% girls, 61% Black, M ± SD age = 9.3 ± 1.0 years, body mass index [BMI] = 26 ± 4.6 kg/m2, BMI z-score = 2.1 ± 0.4) were randomized to 13 ± 1.6 weeks of an exercise program (20 or 40 min/day), or a control condition. Main Outcome Measures: Blinded, standardized psychological evaluations (Cognitive Assessment System and Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement III) assessed cognition and academic achievement. Functional MRI measured brain activity during executive function tasks. Results: Intent to treat analysis revealed dose-response benefits of exercise on executive function and mathematics achievement. Preliminary evidence of increased bilateral prefrontal cortex activity and reduced bilateral posterior parietal cortex activity attributable to exercise was also observed. Conclusion: Consistent with results obtained in older adults, a specific improvement on executive function and brain activation changes attributable to exercise were observed. The cognitive and achievement results add evidence of dose-response and extend experimental evidence into childhood. This study provides information on an educational outcome. Besides its importance for maintaining weight and reducing health risks during a childhood obesity epidemic, physical activity may prove to be a simple, important method of enhancing aspects of children’s mental functioning that are central to cognitive development. This information may persuade educators to implement vigorous physical activity.
A Sigh Is Just a . . . Sign of Depression
Practical people often disdain science because science is so impractical with all the controls and comparisons and counting and theory, theory, theory. Man, can’t you make it obvious? Here’s a well done study looking at the relationship between sighs in normal activity and clinical depression with a small sample of women diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Robbins, M. L., Mehl, M. R., Holleran, S. E., & Kasle, S. carefully observed people during their normal daily activity who were wearing sensitive recording devices. These devices picked up the amount and rate of sighing. That information was then correlated with standard clinical measures of depression. They obtained Very Large Windowpane effects, 15/85. Look at this scatterplot.
This is a very small sample and the external validity is, as the authors note, uncertain. And, if you’ve read enough research you know how often the first time someone finds something, they often find a large effect that doesn’t replicate. If you do research, this is an interesting area to pursue. If you just like something practical, realize that if someone you know well starts sighing much more often than usual, it could be related to depression.
Robbins, M. L., Mehl, M. R., Holleran, S. E., & Kasle, S. (2011). Naturalistically observed sighing and depression in rheumatoid arthritis patients: A preliminary study. Health Psychology, 30(1), 129-133.
Objective: This study tested the degree to which naturalistically observed sighing in daily life is a behavioral indicator of depression and reported physical symptoms (i.e., experienced pain and flare days) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. Design: Thirteen RA patients wore the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR), an observational ambulatory assessment tool, for two weekends (Friday through Sunday) approximately one month apart. The EAR periodically recorded snippets of ambient sounds from participants’ momentary environments (50 s every 18 min). Sighs were coded from the sampled ambient sounds. Main Outcome Measures: Depression was assessed with the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale and the Beck Depression Inventory. Pain during the past month was assessed with a 10-cm visual-analog scale, and number of flare days during the prior 6 months was reported. Results: Sighing was significantly and strongly related to patients’ levels of depression and nonsignificantly and less strongly related to their reported pain and number of flare days. Conclusion: The findings suggest that sighing can serve as an observable marker of depression in RA patients. Because the sample size was small, the findings should be considered preliminary.
Change and Maintenance with Exercise
Run or die and all that, but can you get people off the sofa and more importantly, keep them off the sofa? Fjeldsoe, B., Neuhaus, M., Winkler, E., & Eakin, E. conduct a great systematic review of the exercise literature, not for a meta, but rather to understand what we know and don’t know in a much broader sense. They find that while a lot of intervention aimed at getting people off the sofa are out there, most don’t go into that maintenance phase of staying off the sofa. Under their “conservative” criteria, most studies do not follow long term habit formation nor do they demonstrate that it occurs. The implications for future research are very strong here.
Fjeldsoe, B., Neuhaus, M., Winkler, E., & Eakin, E. (2011). Systematic review of maintenance of behavior change following physical activity and dietary interventions. Health Psychology, 30(1), 99-109.
Objective: In the past decade, there has been no systematic review of the evidence for maintenance of physical activity and/or dietary behavior change following intervention (follow-up). This systematic review addressed three questions: 1) How frequently do trials report on maintenance of behavior change? 2) How frequently do interventions achieve maintenance of behavior change? 3) What sample, methodologic, or intervention characteristics are common to trials achieving maintenance? Design: Systematic review of trials that evaluated a physical activity and/or dietary behavior change intervention among adults, with measurement at preintervention, postintervention, and at least 3 months following intervention completion (follow-up). Main Outcome Measures: Maintenance of behavior change was defined as a significant between-groups difference at postintervention and at follow-up, for one or more physical activity and/or dietary outcome. Results: Maintenance outcomes were reported in 35% of the 157 intervention trials initially considered for review. Of the 29 trials that met all inclusion criteria, 21 (72%) achieved maintenance. Characteristics common to trials achieving maintenance included those related to sample characteristics (targeting women), study methods (higher attrition and pretrial behavioral screening), and intervention characteristics (longer duration [>24 weeks], face-to-face contact, use of more intervention strategies [>6], and use of follow-up prompts). Conclusions: Maintenance of physical activity and dietary behavior change is not often reported; when it is, it is often achieved. To advance the evidence, the field needs consensus on reporting of maintenance outcomes, controlled evaluations of intervention strategies to promote maintenance, and more detailed reporting of interventions.
The Pleasures of Pain
Just one more lap, kids, then we can hit the bar, have a Martini, and do something that will actually lead to longer life. Ruby, Dunn, Gillis, and Viel explore the persuasion problem with exercise – people expect to hate doing it, but then feel better later. In a series of well constructed experiments, Ruby et al. determine that people seriously overestimate how much they hate exercise and seriously underestimate how much better they feel later (Medium Windowpane effects). Really, it’s good for you. At least in your head.
Ruby, M. B., Dunn, E. W., Perrino, A., Gillis, R., & Viel, S. (2011). The invisible benefits of exercise. Health Psychology, 30(1), 67-74. doi:10.1037/a0021859
Objective: To examine whether—and why—people underestimate how much they enjoy exercise. Design: Across four studies, 279 adults predicted how much they would enjoy exercising, or reported their actual feelings after exercising. Main Outcome Measures: Main outcome measures were predicted and actual enjoyment ratings of exercise routines, as well as intention to exercise. Results: Participants significantly underestimated how much they would enjoy exercising; this affective forecasting bias emerged consistently for group and individual exercise, and moderate and challenging workouts spanning a wide range of forms, from yoga and Pilates to aerobic exercise and weight training (Studies 1 and 2). We argue that this bias stems largely from forecasting myopia, whereby people place disproportionate weight on the beginning of a workout, which is typically unpleasant. We demonstrate that forecasting myopia can be harnessed (Study 3) or overcome (Study 4), thereby increasing expected enjoyment of exercise. Finally, Study 4 provides evidence for a mediational model, in which improving people’s expected enjoyment of exercise leads to increased intention to exercise. Conclusion: People underestimate how much they enjoy exercise because of a myopic focus on the unpleasant beginning of exercise, but this tendency can be harnessed or overcome, potentially increasing intention to exercise.