Dose response association of objective physical activity with mental health in a representative national sample of adults: A cross-sectional study

PLoS One. 2018 Oct 24;13(10):e0204682. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0204682. eCollection 2018.


Although higher physical activity (PA) levels are associated with better mental health, previous findings about the shape of the dose-response relationship between PA and mental health are inconsistent. Furthermore, this association may differ according to sedentary levels. We investigated the cross-sectional dose-response associations between objectively measured PA and mental health in a representative national sample of adults. We also examined whether sedentary time modified the PA-mental health associations. Based on 2007-2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey data, PA and sedentary time were measured using accelerometry among 8150 participants, aged 20 to 79 years. Generalized additive models with a smooth function were fitted to examine associations between minutes per day of moderate and vigorous PA (MVPA), light PA (LPA), daily steps (combined or not with sedentary time) and self-rated mental health. A significant curvilinear relationship between average daily minutes of MVPA and mental health was observed, with increasing benefits up to 50 minutes/day. For LPA, a more complex shape (monotonic and curvilinear) was found. For daily steps, inverted U-shaped curve suggested increasing benefits until a plateau between 5 000 and 16 000 steps. The MVPA-LPA combination was significantly associated with mental health but with a complex pattern (p < 0.0005E-06). The tested PA-sedentary time combinations showed that increasing sedentary time decreased the positive PA-mental health associations. Non-linear dose-response patterns between the PA modalities and self-reported mental health were observed. Optimal doses of daily minutes of MVPA, LPA, MVPA combined with LPA and daily steps are independently associated with better mental health in adults. The results also suggest that PA-mental health associations could be hampered by daily sedentary time.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Canada
  • Computer Graphics
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Public Health
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult

Grant support

PB is supported by Université du Québec à Montréal, Institut Universitaire de Santé Mentale de Montréal and by a salary award from the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Santé. ID and AJ are supported by Postdoctoral fellowship from the Fonds de recherche du Québec–Santé (FRQS). GHM is supported by the Quebec Inter-university Center for Social Statictics. CMS is supported by the Canada Chairs Program. The authors thank The Quebec Population Health Research Network (QPHRN) for its contribution to the financing of this open-access publication.