Wellbeing and Exercise Laboratory

Led by assistant professors Jacob Meyer and Laura Ellingson

The Wellbeing and Exercise Laboratory conducts research on the effects of exercise, physical activity and sedentary time on psychological health and wellbeing. Ellingson’s approach focuses on the effects of physical activity and sedentary time on pain sensitivity and modulation in adults with chronic pain to attempt to reduce pain and learn more about the underlying diseases. Meyer’s approach examines how exercise can be used in the prevention and treatment of mental health conditions, particularly depression.

This research involves both acute exercise studies that evaluate the immediate and short-term effects of movement as well as chronic training studies that look at changes in movement behaviors over weeks to months and beyond. All of this research is designed to 1) better understand the illnesses that activity can influence, and 2) help people see and use the beneficial effects of movement for the health and wellbeing.

Major research topics

Exercise in depression

Meyer’s research looks specifically at how exercise can influence depression (see figure). In earlier work, he found that the intensity of a single session of exercise wasn’t related to the reduction in mood that depressed patients felt after exercise – if people sat quietly their mood improved, but if they exercised at either a light, moderate or hard intensity for 20 minutes their depressed mood reduced to a greater degree up to 30 minutes after exercise. If targeting short-term mood benefits of exercise in patients with depression, a specific intensity may not be required for people to feel better – it looked like people felt similarly (and better!) after the light, moderate and hard intensity sessions.

Wellbeing and Exercise POMS graph

Selected works include:

  1. Meyer J, Koltyn K, Stegner A, Kim J, and Cook D (2016). Influence of exercise intensity for improving depressed mood in depression: A dose-response study. Behavior Therapy, 47(4); 527-537. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2016.04.003
  2. Meyer J, Koltyn K, Stegner A, Kim J, Cook D (2016). Brain derived neurotrophic factor is unrelated to the antidepressant response to acute exercise in depression. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 74; 286-294.
    doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.09.022
  3. Gordon B, McDowell C, Hallgren M, Meyer J, Lyons M, & Herring M. Association of Efficacy of Resistance Exercise Training With Depressive Symptoms: Meta-analysis and Meta-regression Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018;75(6):566–576. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.0572
  4. Meyer J, Schuch F (2018). Exercise for the Prevention and Treatment of Depression. In B Stubbs & S Rosenbaum (Eds.), Exercise-Based Interventions for People with Mental Illness. The Netherlands, Elsevier.

Current research projects

Acute Aerobic Exercise and the Psychobiology of Depression (Exercise and Brain Health; EBH)

Principal Investigator: Meyer, J.
CHS Intramural Untenured Seed Grant and startup funding (July 2018 – June 2019).
This research is designed to investigate the immediate and short-term effects of a single session of recumbent cycling exercise at a moderate intensity on various markers of psychological, biological and cognitive health in people with depression and in healthy adults. This research will help us develop innovative interventions that use exercise to augment the effect of other therapies in the treatment of depression.
Research site coming soon. Contact us for more information at WellEx@iastate.edu or by calling 515-294-5230.

Sedentary Behavior and Low Back Pain (SUMIT)

Principal Investigator: Meyer, J and Ellingson L.
Source: CHS Intramural Collaborative Grant (Jan 2018 - Dec 2019).
This project examines the effects of a sedentary behavior intervention on symptoms of chronic low back pain and on biomarkers of this response. This research will pave the way for different interventional techniques through a greater understanding of the psychological and physiological effects of altering sedentary behavior patterns. This project is particularly exciting as chronic pain conditions often lead to people avoiding exercise even if it might be helpful so new approaches to movement interventions that are effective would be impactful.
Research site coming soon. Contact us for more information at WellEx@iastate.edu or by calling 515-294-5230.

Lab equipment

The laboratory uses a variety of tools to accomplish its research objectives. A Lode Recumbent bicycle and various metabolic measurement systems, heart rate, blood pressure and other monitoring devices, are used to measure the body’s responses to exercise. A Medoc Pathway Pain & Sensory Evaluation System is used to assess pain sensitivity and processing in a highly-controlled manner to evaluate the acute effects of exercise on pain and the long-term effects of interventions on pain processing. Biological samples are processed and stored in local -80 °C freezers until processing via ELISA or multiplex assays. E-prime and other cognitive testing software are used to measure executive processing and working memory. Various types of Fitbits™, Actigraph™ and activPAL™ activity monitors allow for free-living activity monitoring outside of the laboratory providing measurements of behavior throughout the full 24-hours. Many other pieces of equipment for exercise, biological processing and more, are available in the Kinesiology department and used for projects when needed.

Research team

There are two principal investigators in this laboratory who work together on projects relating movement to wellbeing. Three graduate students are currently primarily involved in this laboratory while there are also five undergraduate research assistants in the lab working on human research projects including both acute exercise and intervention studies. Students in this laboratory work on all aspects of the research from project development to IRB submission to study recruitment, participant visits, data management and analysis and more.