Exercise and Distress
A large-scale survey of nearly 13,000 Canadians found that physical activity has a positive effect on the mental health of the general population.
Canada's 1994 National Population Health Survey, which targeted adults ages 20 to 65, supports the previous findings of several small clinical trials that targeted specific populations.
Based on calories burned, 60 percent of respondents were judged sedentary, 23 percent moderately active, and 17 percent highly active.
Those who were moderately or highly active reported less than half the level of ''generalized distress'' - a measure of feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, sadness and nervousness - than those who were sedentary.
There was little difference in distress between moderately and highly active people. This result held true after controlling for age, sex, marital status, number of children, education level, employment status, income, smoking and obesity.
The effects of chronic emotional strain, self-esteem and social support were unrelated to the effects of exercise. A person's sense of control over his life, however, was closely linked to his level of physical activity.
The researchers suspect physical activity increases a person's sense of control over his life, which in turn reduces distress.
This survey analyzed only a single point in time, however, so it could not determine cause-and-effect relationships.
The authors suggest physical activity reduces distress, but cannot rule out that distress
prevents people from exercising.
Source: Canadian Journal of Public Health, July/August 2000; 91, 4, 302-306
This appeared in ACE FitnessMatters, ACE's official magazine.
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