Happiness, depression, physical activity and cognition among the middle and old-aged population in China: a conditional process analysis

PeerJ. 2022 Jun 28:10:e13673. doi: 10.7717/peerj.13673. eCollection 2022.


Background: Happiness is one variable of subjective well-being, which has been increasingly shown to have protective effects on health. Although the association between happiness and cognition has been established, the mechanism by which happiness leads to cognition remains unclear. Since happiness, depression, and physical activity may all be related to cognition, and happiness is related to depression and physical activity, this study explored the effect of depression and physical activity on the relationship between happiness and cognition among middle and old-aged individuals in China.

Methods: Data on 14,344 participants above 45 years of age were obtained from the 2018 China Family Panel Studies survey. A multiple linear regression analysis was performed to identify the correlation factors of cognition. The conditional process analysis was used to assess the mediatory effect of depression and physical activity on the relationship between happiness and cognition.

Results: Residence, age, sex, income level, social status, smoking, napping, reading, education, exercise times, satisfaction, happiness, and depression had associations with cognition. When other variables were held constant, cognition score increased by 0.029 standard deviation(SD) for every 1 SD increased in happiness. Mediation analysis showed that happiness had a significant positive total effect on cognition. The direct effect of happiness was significant and accounted for 57.86% of the total effect. The mediatory effect of depression (path of happiness→depression→cognition) accounted for 38.31% of the total effect, whereas that of physical activity (path of happiness→exercise times→cognition) accounted for 3.02% of the total effect.

Conclusion: Happiness has a positive correlation with cognitive function, and depression and physical activity play mediatory roles in this association. Effective interventions to improve happiness levels of middle and old-aged population will not only improve their subjective well-being but also improve their cognitive function, which carries great potential for reducing public health burdens related to cognitive aging.

Keywords: Cognition; Depression; Happiness; Physical activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • China / epidemiology
  • Cognition
  • Depression* / epidemiology
  • Exercise
  • Happiness*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged

Grants and funding

This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 82160643). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.