A daily analysis of physical activity and satisfaction with life in emerging adults

Health Psychol. 2013 Jun;32(6):647-56. doi: 10.1037/a0030129. Epub 2012 Oct 22.


Objective: Subjective well-being has well-established positive health consequences. During emerging adulthood, from ages 18 to 25 years, people's global evaluations of their well-being (i.e., satisfaction with life [SWL]) appear to worsen more than any other time in the adult life span, indicating that this population would benefit from strategies to enhance SWL. In these studies, we investigated top-down (i.e., time-invariant, trait-like) and bottom-up (i.e., time-varying, state-like) influences of physical activity (PA) on daily SWL.

Methods: Two daily diary studies lasting 8 days (N = 190) and 14 days (N = 63) were conducted with samples of emerging adults enrolled in college to evaluate relations between daily PA and SWL while controlling for established and plausible top-down and bottom-up influences on SWL.

Results: In both studies, multilevel models indicated that people reported greater SWL on days when they were more active (a within-person, bottom-up effect). Top-down effects of PA were not significant in either study. These findings were robust when we controlled for competing top-down influences (e.g., sex, personality traits, self-esteem, body mass index, mental health symptoms, fatigue) and bottom-up influences (e.g., daily self-esteem, daily mental health symptoms, daily fatigue).

Conclusions: We concluded that SWL was impacted by people's daily PA rather than their trait level of PA over time. These findings extend evidence that PA is a health behavior with important consequences for daily well-being and should be considered when developing national policies to enhance SWL.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Fatigue
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Motor Activity*
  • Multilevel Analysis
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Personality
  • Self Concept
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult