Background: Previous studies examining the relationship between physical activity levels and broad-based measures of psychological wellbeing in adolescents have been limited by not controlling for potentially confounding variables. The present study examined the relationship between adolescents' self-reported physical activity level, sedentary behaviour and psychological wellbeing; while controlling for a broad range of sociodemographic, health and developmental factors.
Methods: The study entailed a cross-sectional school-based survey in ten British towns. Two thousand six hundred and twenty three adolescents (aged 13-16 years) reported physical activity levels, patterns of sedentary behaviour (TV/computer/video usage) and completed the strengths and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ).
Results: Lower levels of self-reported physical activity and higher levels of sedentary behaviour showed graded associations with higher SDQ total difficulties scores, both for boys (P < 0.001) and girls (P < 0.02) after adjustment for age and town. Additional adjustment for social class, number of parents, predicted school examination results, body mass index, ethnicity, alcohol intake and smoking status had little effect on these findings.
Conclusions: Low levels of self-reported physical activity are independently associated with diminished psychological wellbeing among adolescents. Longitudinal studies may provide further insights into the relationship between wellbeing and activity levels in this population. Ultimately, randomised controlled trials are needed to evaluate the effects of increasing physical activity on psychological wellbeing among adolescents.