Publication date: Available online 27 February 2019
Source: Mental Health and Physical Activity
Author(s): Amber J. Halliday, Margaret L. Kern, Deborah A. Turnbull
Studies find that physical activity (PA) links with mental health, females engage in less PA than males, and females have worse mental health than males. Less attention has been paid to the intersection of PA, mental health, and gender. Might PA explain links between gender and mental health in adolescence? Or does the mental health benefit of PA depend on gender? In addition, while PA correlates with better mental health overall, PA may be more beneficial for some domains versus others. Using four years of cross-sectional data from students (1756 cases over four years, age 13–18), we (1) confirmed gender differences in PA and mental health, replicating prior studies; examined gender (2) as a confounding variable and (3) as a moderator of the PA-mental health link; and (4) tested PA as a mediator between gender and mental health. In addition, we consider whether associations vary for different positive and negative mental health domains. Females reported poorer mental health; males engaged in more PA. PA was associated with all markers of mental health, having stronger correlations with Engagement and Perseverance than other positive and negative domains. Results better supported a mediational model (PA mediating gender-mental health associations) than a moderation model (gender moderating PA-mental health associations). Findings indicate the value of PA as an adolescent mental health intervention and suggest that barriers to females’ participation in PA should be considered.