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Objectives: To test the Cross-Stressor Adaptation hypothesis for females by examining whether physically exercising young women show reduced physiological and psychological stress responses to a psychosocial stressor. Design: Forty-seven healthy young women with different levels of physical exercise (17 not or rarely exercising, 15 moderately exercising, 15 vigorously exercising) underwent the Trier Social Stress Test for Groups (TSST-G); physiological and psychological stress responses during and after stress induction were compared. Method: ANOVAs with repeated measures were used to compare stress reactivity and recovery between the three exercise groups. Heart rate and salivary free cortisol were used as indicators of physiological stress response, state anxiety, mood, and calmness as indicators of psychological stress response. For physiological stress reactivity, the areas under the curve with respect to the ground (AUCG) were compared. Results: In all three exercise groups, experimentally induced stress led to a significant rise in heart rate, cortisol, and state anxiety; mood and calmness significantly decreased. As hypothesized, the pattern of the physiological stress response differed for the three exercise groups, with lowered reactivity in the more active groups. However, the psychological stress response partly went in the opposite direction: Exercising participants reported a higher mood decrease, suggesting a dissociation of the physiological and psychological stress responses. Conclusions: The findings suggest that the Cross-Stressor Adaptation hypothesis is also valid for young women; however, only with regard to physiological stress response. The unexpected findings for psychological stress response need to be further explored in experimental studies.

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