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The importance of both setting and intensity of physical activity in relation to non-clinical anxiety and depression

Mutrie, N. and Hannah, M.K. (2007) The importance of both setting and intensity of physical activity in relation to non-clinical anxiety and depression. International Journal of Health Promotion and Education, 45 (1). ISSN 1463-5240

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Physical activity is associated with good physical and mental health. Current recommendations suggest that people should achieve 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most days of the week to gain health benefits. This activity may be accumulated in leisure time, in active commuting, at work or in the home. Here we look at the cross-sectional relationship between physical activity and mental health as measured by the HADS anxiety and depression scores in a sample of 1,742 participants from a Scottish general population survey. The participants were men and women in three age cohorts aged around 24, 44 and 64 years who, in 1995, were interviewed face to face and also self-completed the HADS depression and anxiety scale. Respondents reported their levels of physical activity at work, in the home and in leisure time; the intensities of activity were also determined. Physical activity was related to depression scores but not to anxiety scores. There was no relationship between work physical activity and depression score. Among women, depression score increased with each additional episode of vigorous home activity. In both sexes, depression score decreased with each additional episode of vigorous leisure activity, but among men the decrease in depression score with moderate leisure activity was reversed if a lot of moderate activity was undertaken. We have found a variable relationship between depression scores and various settings for physical activity. Researchers, policymakers and practitioners who are interested in the relationship between physical activity and mental health should take into account the setting for activity as well as frequency, duration and intensity of activity.