Physical activity in European adolescents and associations with anxiety, depression and well-being

Elaine M. McMahon*, Paul Corcoran, Grace O’Regan, Helen Keeley, Mary Cannon, Vladimir Carli, Camilla Wasserman, Gergö Hadlaczky, Marco Sarchiapone, Alan Apter, Judit Balazs, Maria Balint, Julio Bobes, Romuald Brunner, Doina Cozman, Christian Haring, Miriam Iosue, Michael Kaess, Jean Pierre Kahn, Bogdan NemesTina Podlogar, Vita Poštuvan, Pilar Sáiz, Merike Sisask, Alexandra Tubiana, Peeter Värnik, Christina W. Hoven, Danuta Wasserman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this cross-sectional study, physical activity, sport participation and associations with well-being, anxiety and depressive symptoms were examined in a large representative sample of European adolescents. A school-based survey was completed by 11,110 adolescents from ten European countries who took part in the SEYLE (Saving and Empowering Young Lives in Europe) study. The questionnaire included items assessing physical activity, sport participation and validated instruments assessing well-being (WHO-5), depressive symptoms (BDI-II) and anxiety (SAS). Multi-level mixed effects linear regression was used to examine associations between physical activity/sport participation and mental health measures. A minority of the sample (17.9 % of boys and 10.7 % of girls; p < 0.0005) reported sufficient activity based on WHO guidelines (60 min + daily). The mean number of days of at least 60 min of moderate-to-vigorous activity in the past 2 weeks was 7.5 ± 4.4 among boys and 5.9 days ± 4.3 among girls. Frequency of activity was positively correlated with well-being and negatively correlated with both anxiety and depressive symptoms, up to a threshold of moderate frequency of activity. In a multi-level mixed effects model more frequent physical activity and participation in sport were both found to independently contribute to greater well-being and lower levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms in both sexes. Increasing activity levels and sports participation among the least active young people should be a target of community and school-based interventions to promote well-being. There does not appear to be an additional benefit to mental health associated with meeting the WHO-recommended levels of activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-122
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Exercise
  • Mental health


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