Regular exercise, anxiety, depression and personality: a population-based study

Prev Med. 2006 Apr;42(4):273-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2005.12.002. Epub 2006 Jan 24.


Objectives: To examine whether regular exercise is associated with anxiety, depression and personality in a large population-based sample as a function of gender and age.

Methods: The sample consisted of adolescent and adult twins and their families (N=19,288) who participated in the study on lifestyle and health from The Netherlands Twin Registry (1991-2002). Exercise participation, anxiety, depression and personality were assessed with self-report questionnaires.

Results: The overall prevalence of exercise participation (with a minimum of 60 min weekly at 4 METs (Metabolic Energy Expenditure Index)) in our sample was 51.4%. Exercise participation strongly declined with age from about 70% in young adolescents to 30% in older adults. Among adolescents, males exercised more, whereas, among older adults, females exercised more. Exercisers were on average less anxious (-0.18 SD), depressed (-0.29 SD) and neurotic (-0.14 SD), more extraverted (+0.32 SD) and were higher in dimensions of sensation seeking (from+0.25 SD to+0.47 SD) than non-exercisers. These differences were modest in size, but very consistent across gender and age.

Conclusions: This study corroborates and extends previous findings: regular exercise is cross-sectionally associated with lower neuroticism, anxiety and depression and higher extraversion and sensation seeking in the population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / epidemiology*
  • Anxiety / prevention & control
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Depression / prevention & control
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Neurotic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Neurotic Disorders / prevention & control
  • Personality*
  • Prevalence
  • Registries
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Twins