Objective: To establish associations between physical exercise during leisure time and prevalence, incidence and course of mental disorders.
Method: Data were derived from the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study, a 3-wave cohort study in a representative sample (N=7,076) of Dutch adults. Mental disorders were assessed with the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Physical activity was established by the number of hours per week people spent on taking physical exercise.
Results: Physical exercise was negatively associated with presence and first-onset of mood and anxiety disorders after adjustment for confounders. Evidence for a dose-response relationship between exercise levels and mental health was not found. Among those with mental disorder at baseline, exercise participants were more likely to recover from their illness (OR=1.47) compared to their counterparts who did not take exercise.
Conclusion: Physical exercise is beneficial to mental health, but it remains uncertain whether this association truly reflects a causal effect of exercise.
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