Physical inactivity is a leading factor associated with cardiovascular disease and a major contributor to the global burden of disease in developed countries. Subjective mood states associated with acute exercise are likely to influence future exercise adherence and warrant further investigation. The present study examined the effects of a single bout of vigorous exercise on mood and anxiety between individuals with substantially different exercise participation histories. Mood and anxiety were assessed one day before an exercise test (baseline), 5 minutes before (pre-test) and again 10 and 25 minutes post-exercise. Participants were 31 university students (16 males, 15 females; Age M = 20), with 16 participants reporting a history of regular exercise with the remaining 15 reporting to not exercise regularly. Each participant completed an incremental exercise test on a Monark cycle ergometer to volitional exhaustion. Regular exercisers reported significant post-exercise improvements in mood and reductions in state anxiety. By contrast, non-regular exercisers reported an initial decline in post-exercise mood and increased anxiety, followed by an improvement in mood and reduction in anxiety back to pre-exercise levels. Our findings suggest that previous exercise participation mediates affective responses to acute bouts of vigorous exercise. We suggest that to maximise positive mood changes following exercise, practitioners should carefully consider the individual's exercise participation history before prescribing new regimes. Key pointsPrevious exercise participation mediates the affective response to acute bouts of vigorous exercise.Regular exercisers respond positively to acute bouts of vigorous physical activity, reporting less state anxiety and fatigue, and more vigour.Non-regular exercisers respond with an initial reduction in positive mood states, followed by a rebound to baseline levels 25 minutes post-exercise.To maximise positive post-exercise mood states, especially among novice exercisers, practitioners should carefully consider previous exercise participation when prescribing new exercise regimes.