"Don't crack under pressure!"--Do leisure time physical activity and self-esteem moderate the relationship between school-based stress and psychosomatic complaints?

J Psychosom Res. 2008 Oct;65(4):363-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.06.012. Epub 2008 Aug 28.


Objective: Stressful experiences occupy a central role in most etiological models of developmental psychopathology. Stress alone, however, insufficiently explains negative health outcomes. This raises the question why some children and adolescents are more vulnerable to the development of psychopathological symptoms than others. The primary purpose of this research was to demonstrate whether leisure time physical activity and self-esteem protect against stress-induced health problems.

Method: The findings are based on a cross-sectional study of 407 Swiss boys and girls (M=14.01 years). All variables are self-reported. Analyses of covariance were applied to test for main and moderator effects.

Results: The findings suggest that school-based stress and psychosomatic complaints are important issues during adolescence. The results show that a higher level of psychosomatic complaints accompanies stress. Surprisingly, psychosomatic complaints and physical activity were unrelated. Likewise, no association was found between physical activity and stress. In contrast, students with high self-esteem reported significantly less complaints and a lower extent of perceived stress. Finally, the results do not support the stress-moderation hypothesis. Neither physical activity nor self-esteem buffered against the detrimental effects of school-based stress on psychosomatic health.

Conclusion: The findings lend support to previous research with German-speaking samples but are in marked contrast to Anglo-Saxon studies, which generally support the role of physical activity as a moderator of the health-illness relationship. In this investigation, developmental features and methodological limitations may have accounted for the insignificant results.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities*
  • Male
  • Motor Activity*
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / psychology*
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Environment*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Students / psychology
  • Students / statistics & numerical data*