Promoting enjoyable experiences and enhancing mental health outcomes are desirable consequences of physical activity (PA) participation. Research suggests that green exercise (GE) can elicit greater psychological benefits than non-GE (Coon et al., 2011). In addition, affect during exercise appears to be a key predictor of long-term PA engagement (Rhodes & Kates, 2015). Little research has assessed affect-regulated GE and non-GE on psychological outcomes. Thus, understanding factors that could enhance GE engagement could have important PA and psychological benefits. Therefore, the aim of the study was to compare the effects of affect-regulated GE and non-GE with a non-exercise control condition on stress, anxiety, and enjoyment in university students. A counterbalanced repeated-measures experimental design was employed. A total of 19 university students (M age = 20.5 years, SD = 2.4) completed three 20-minute conditions: walking/running in a GE environment; treadmill walking/running in a gym; and completing cognitive tasks. Stress and anxiety measures were obtained immediately before and after conditions. Enjoyment was assessed immediately after each condition. In the exercise conditions, distance covered was measured, with affect assessed throughout. There were large significant decreases in stress (p = .0001) and anxiety (p = .0001) after the GE condition, and stress after NGE (p = .002). A moderate significant difference was found in anxiety change (p = .034), and a large effect for performance (p = .0001) after GE compared to NGE. Moderate to large effect sizes were found for enjoyment between the exercise conditions and CON condition (p = .004 – .029), and a moderate effect size for stress changes between GE and CON conditions (p = .009). The findings provide new insights into the: effectiveness of exercise in reducing stress and anxiety; use of affect-regulated exercise in GE research; and the effect of environment on performance. Further research may result in applied implications for exercise prescription at university health centres to reduce stress and anxiety symptoms in students.
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