To examine the association between volume and intensity of physical activity (PA) and depressive symptoms, anxiety, and body image in a large sample of adolescents in Ottawa and surrounding region.
A total of 1259 (n = 746 girls and n = 513 boys) students responded to surveys on leisure time PA, depressive symptoms, anxiety, and body image.
A dose response effect of intensity of PA and psychological distress was observed whereby those who performed greater bouts of vigorous PA exhibited better psychological adjustment than adolescents engaging in mild to moderate intensity activity. Gender impacted the results as vigorous PA was associated with reduced depression but not anxiety in boys, and reduced anxiety but not depression in girls. The positive association between total volume of PA and psychological functioning in the overall sample was no longer significant when gender was considered, except for reduced anxiety in girls.
Vigorous PA was associated with reductions in depressive symptoms, anxiety and improvements in body esteem in adolescents, but these associations were differentially influenced by gender. Future research is needed to elucidate the efficacy of vigorous PA as a treatment for mental health problems in male and female adolescents.
Goldfield is with the Healthy Active Living and Obesity (HALO) Research Group, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Henderson, Buchholz, and Obeid are with the Mental Health Dept, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Nguyen is with the Dept of Psychiatry, Royal Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Flament is with the Dept of Psychiatry, Royal Ottawa Health Care Group, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.