Bidirectional Prospective Associations Between Physical Activity and Depressive Symptoms. The TRAILS Study

Nikolaos Stavrakakis*, Peter de Jonge, Johan Ormel, Albertine J. Oldehinkel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Purpose: Low levels of physical activity (PA) have been shown to be associated with depression in adults. The few studies that focused on adolescents yielded mixed and inconsistent results. Efforts to examine the direction of this relationship have been inconclusive up to now. The aims of this study were therefore to investigate (1) the direction of the inverse association between PA and depressive symptoms over time, and (2) whether these associations are specific to particular clusters of depressive symptoms in adolescents.

Methods: Depressive symptoms and PA were assessed in a population sample of adolescents (N = 2,230) who were measured at three waves between age 10 and age 17. Depressive symptoms were measured by the Affective Problems scale of the Youth Self-Report and Child Behavior Checklist, whereas PA was operationalized as the amount of time spent on physical exercise. Structural equation modeling was used to examine bidirectional effects of PA and depressive symptoms over time.

Results: We found significant cross-lagged paths from prior PA to later depression as well as from prior depression to later PA (beta values = -.039 to -.047). After subdividing depression into affective and somatic symptoms, the affective symptoms were reciprocally related to PA, whereas the paths between somatic symptoms and PA did not reach statistical significance.

Conclusions: An inverse bidirectional association between PA and general depressive symptoms was observed. This association was restricted to affective symptoms. (C) 2012 Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-508
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May-2012


  • Physical activity
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Affective symptoms
  • Adolescents
  • Longitudinal studies
  • RISK

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