2013 - Research

Possible Mechanisms Explaining the Association Between Physical Activity and Mental Health

Findings From the 2001 Dutch Health Behavior in School-Aged Children Survey

The aim of this article is to investigate whether the association between physical activity and mental health is mediated by body-weight perception (self-image) or the social aspects of participation in organized sports (social interaction).

  • More physical activity is associated with fewer mental health problems among adolescents, but the underlying mechanisms are not clear. The aim of this article is to investigate whether the association between physical activity and mental health is mediated by body-weight perception (self-image) or the social aspects of participation in organized sports (social interaction).
  • Data from 7,304 adolescents were drawn from the Dutch Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children survey. Logistic regression analyses showed that, compared with respondents who were physically active, inactive respondents were at higher risk for both internalizing (odds ratio [OR] = 1.52, p < .001) and externalizing (OR = 1.34, p < .05) problems. The inclusion of body- weight perception and sports-club membership variables reduced the strength of the association to an OR of 1.35 (p < .05) for internalizing problems and an OR of 1.20 (p = .132) for externalizing problems.
  • This study found some support for the self-image and social interaction hypotheses and thereby confirms the importance of the psychological and sociological aspects of physical activity.

Karin Monshouwer, Margreet ten Have, Mireille van Poppel, Han Kemper, and Wilma Vollebergh. (2013). Possible Mechanisms Explaining the Association Between Physical Activity and Mental Health: Findings From the 2001 Dutch Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Survey. Clinical Psychological Science, 1(January), 67-74. doi: 10.1177/2167702612450485

Authored by: 
Karin Monshouwer
Margreet ten Have
Mireille van Poppel
Han Kemper
and Wilma Vollebergh.