Background: A sedentary lifestyle and psychosocial factors such as hopelessness and depression increase cardiovascular risk. Cross-sectional evidence suggests positive effects of physical exercise on psychological well being, but the time order of the relationship between physical activity and hopelessness has not been addressed.
Design: Population-based prospective cohort study with 630 middle-aged men participating in the 4-year follow-up and 509 men in the 11-year follow-up.
Methods: We investigated the association of leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) with the development of hopelessness during the follow-up. LTPA and hopelessness were quantified with questionnaires.
Results: In cross-sectional analyses, LTPA was inversely associated with hopelessness, independently of depression. Among men who did not have feelings of hopelessness at baseline, those who reported engaging in at least 2.5 h/week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity had a lower risk (odds ratio 0.65, 95% confidence interval: 0.39-1.09, P for the trend=0.047) to feel hopeless than sedentary men 4 years later after adjustment for age, smoking, alcohol consumption, cardiovascular disease and socioeconomic status. Furthermore, this relationship was not explained by body mass index or maximal oxygen uptake. Adjustment for depressive symptoms slightly weakened the association (odds ratio 0.66, 95% confidence interval: 0.39-1.11, P for the trend=0.060). After 11 years, men who reported being physically active at baseline were still less likely to feel hopeless, after adjusting for age. However, after further adjustment for other confounding factors the association was no longer significant.
Conclusion: Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity seems to prevent development of hopelessness in middle-aged men. This protective effect may diminish over time.