Evidence suggests that older adults show positive affects after participating in exercise bouts. However, it is less clear, if and how physical activities in daily living enhance affective states, too. This is dissatisfying, as most of older adults’ physical activities are part of their daily living. To answer these questions we used activity-triggered e-diaries to investigate the within-subject effects of physical activity on three dimensions of affective states (valence, energetic arousal, calmness) during everyday life.
Older adults (N = 74) between 50 and 70 years took part in the study during three consecutive days. Physical activity in daily living was objectively assessed using accelerometers. Affects were measured 10 min after a study participant surpassed a predefined threshold for activity or inactivity. The participants were prompted by an acoustic signal to assess their momentary affective states on an e-diary. Data were analyzed with hierarchical multilevel analyses.
Whenever older individuals were more physically active, they felt more energized (energetic arousal) and agitated (calmness). However, they did not feel better (valence). Interestingly, body mass index (BMI) and valence were associated in a significant cross-level interaction. BMI acts as a moderating variable in the way that lower BMI scores were associated with higher levels of valence scores after being physically active.
The innovative ambulatory assessment used here affords an interesting insight to the affective effects of daily activity of older adults. These effects are no simple and no linear ones, i.e. physical activity is not associated with positive affects per se as shown several times in experimental studies with single activity bouts. Rather there is a differentiating association seen as an enhanced feeling of energy and agitation, which is not accompanied by a better feeling. Socio-emotional selectivity theory may support the finding that older individuals are emotionally more stable during their day-to-day life, which might explain the non-significant effect on the affect dimension valence.