A Clarkson University mathematics student presented her research on how different types of exercise influence moods in a group of college students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nathalie Barrios ’22 has been working with Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Ali Boolani, who developed the idea during the COVID-19 pandemic, in response to his students’ feelings.
Prof. Boolani said that he “really wanted to find out what was going on with students during the first summer of the pandemic.” Nathalie Barrios started collecting data for this study on June 1, 2020, and completed the daily data collection on August 1, 2020. Boolani and the team wanted to know how Covid was impacting the students’ behaviors and how they felt during this time. While most researchers are interested in understanding how exercise impacts moods using traditional definitions of exercise (i.e. aerobic exercise, resistance training, yoga), the Boolani group decided to look at exercise through a philosophical lens.
Using data from 64 students who submitted a minimum of 14 daily surveys, the team wanted to explore how a person’s philosophical relationship with exercise impacted how they felt. According to their findings presented at the Greater New York American College of Sports Medicine (GNY ACSM) conference on April 9th, 2022, women felt less depressed on days they exercised with other people compared to days they exercised alone or did not exercise at all. Interestingly, men did not experience the same antidepressant benefits of exercising with other people. Further, the researchers also report that performing exercise alone increased feelings of energy the most compared to other exercise types, while any form of exercise was better than no exercise when it came to how energetic the participants felt the rest of the day.
Notably, the research was conducted in the Summer of 2020, when the Covid pandemic was looming large. Studies conducted during the pandemic have shown that people generally had a higher level of depression due to lack of social interaction. Exercise has always been used as a way to combat feelings of depression, which is why these researchers chose to study it. Physical activity induces the release of endorphins in the human body, which promotes feelings of happiness and pleasure. Based on these findings, a combination of physical activity and being around friends and family when exercising helped women feel significantly less depressed than when they exercised alone.
Barrios and Boolani worked on this study for almost two years with students from the mathematics department Sucharita Dodamgodage, Olaoluwa Ogunleye, Madushi Wickramasinghe, and Associate Professor of Mathematics at Clarkson Sumona Mondal, and Associate Professor of Exercise and Nutrition at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh Andreas Stamatis. The work presented was “just the beginning of our understanding of how individuals were impacted by the pandemic,” according to Boolani.
Over 140 students started the study and 64 students completed 14 or more days, while 40 individuals completed all 60 days of the study. Barrios and her team worked diligently through the data for the last 2 years to better understand how the philosophical approach to exercise impacted feelings of energy and depression.
Barrios is a Psychology and Mathematics double major in the graduating class of 2022. She worked nonstop for 60 days during the Summer of 202 to collect data, according to Boolani. She is currently writing code for machine learning models to predict how people feel based on their behavior throughout the day.