The role of physical activity as a factor that protects against stress-related mental disorders is well documented. Nevertheless, there is still a dearth of research using objective measures of physical activity. The present study examines whether objectively assessed vigorous physical activity (VPA) is associated with mental health benefits beyond moderate physical activity (MPA). Particularly, this study examines whether young adults who accomplish the American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) vigorous-intensity exercise recommendations differ from peers below these standards with regard to their level of perceived stress, depressive symptoms, perceived pain, and subjective and objective sleep. A total of 42 undergraduate students (22 women, 20 men; M=21.24years, SD=2.20) volunteered to take part in the study. Stress, pain, depressive symptoms, and subjective sleep were assessed via questionnaire, objective sleep via sleep-EEG assessment, and VPA via actigraphy. Meeting VPA recommendations had mental health benefits beyond MPA. VPA was associated with less stress, pain, subjective sleep complaints and depressive symptoms. Moreover, vigorous exercisers had more favorable objective sleep pattern. Especially, they had increased total sleep time, more stage 4 and REM sleep, more slow wave sleep and a lower percentage of light sleep. Vigorous exercisers also reported fewer mental health problems if exposed to high stress. This study provides evidence that meeting the VPA standards of the ACSM is associated with improved mental health and more successful coping among young people, even compared to those who are meeting or exceeding the requirements for MPA.
Keywords: Depressive symptoms; Objective physical activity; Objective sleep; Pain; Sleep complaints; Stress.
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