This study was designed to compare the effects of two aerobic training programmes of differing intensities on mood and mental well-being with those of a credible attention-placebo condition. One hundred and nine sedentary adult volunteers from the local population were assigned to four conditions: high intensity aerobic training, moderate intensity aerobic training, attention-placebo and waiting list. Training was carried out over a 10 week period. Subjects were assessed before and after training with psychological measures and the 12 min walk-run test, and follow-up evaluations were undertaken after 3 months. Ninety-four subjects began the programme and the adherence rate averaged 80%, with no significant differences in number of drop-outs between conditions. Appropriate changes in estimated maximum oxygen consumption were observed in the three active conditions with the 12 min walk-run test. Psychological benefits were seen with the moderate exercise condition but not in the high exercise or attention-placebo conditions. These effects were manifest immediately after training on measures of tension/anxiety and confusion, and at follow-up on measures of perceived coping ability. The mechanisms underlying this pattern of results are discussed and the relative importance for health of vigorous activity and physical fitness is considered.