Leisure-time physical activity and marital status in relation to depression between men and women: A prospective study

Health Psychol. 2011 Mar;30(2):204-11. doi: 10.1037/a0022434.


Background: Previous studies have identified the preventive effect of leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) on depression. Women and men have different emotional vulnerabilities. The impact of LTPA on depression varies by gender. Little is known about the impact of LTPA on depression for people with different marital status.

Objectives: The objective of this study was to assess the long-term effects of LTPA, changes in LTPA, and marital status on the risk of developing depression for general Canadians.

Methods: Data from the biennial National Population Health Survey (NPHS) cycles conducted between 1994/95 and 2004/05 were analyzed in 2008. After excluding individuals with preexisting depression at baseline, respondents were classified as physically active or inactive and then followed up in subsequent cycles of the NPHS to look at risk of developing depression. Individuals who changed their activity level were also examined. Subgroup analyses by different marital status were performed to identify high-risk populations.

Results: In 1994/1995, 17,276 participants were included in the NPHS longitudinal panel. Respondents who were inactive were more likely to be older, female, obese, widowed/separated/divorced, not working, low income, and lacking social support. After controlling for potential confounding factors, it was found that LTPA reduced the risk of developing depression for women. The modest risk reduction observed for men was not statistically significant. Women who were active at baseline and two years of follow-up were significantly less likely to report depression at four years of follow-up compared to women who were inactive at baseline and at two years of follow-up. A 51% greater probability of developing depression was observed after two years for women who changed their LTPA from active to inactive compared to women who remained active. No significant results were found for men. Divorced/separated/widowed women who stopped LTPA had 4.2 times the risk of developing depression after two years compared to those who remained active. The risk of developing depression after stopping activity did not vary according to marital status among men.

Conclusions: LTPA has preventive effects on depression for women. Reduction in LTPA level is associated with subsequent depression for women. Divorced/separated/widowed women are at particularly high risk of developing depression if LTPA is stopped.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depression / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities / psychology*
  • Male
  • Marital Status*
  • Middle Aged
  • Ontario
  • Prospective Studies
  • Young Adult