Mental Health: Impact of Physical Activity


Mental disorders such as anxiety and depression affect many people globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) report shows that the burden of mental disorders has increased substantially in recent periods (Imboden et al., 2022). Despite various interventions and treatment options, many people still have depression. Some have high depression levels to the extent that they are untreatable by antidepressants. Furthermore, individuals with high levels of depression have a high chance of getting chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity. This leads to high morbidity, reducing the life expectancy of individuals suffering from severe mental disorders. Identifying prevention methods is essential in reducing the risks of mental disorders. Individuals who engage in regular exercise tend to have a low psychological burden, enabling them to live a healthy lifestyle (Imboden et al., 2022). Physical activity plays a critical role in reducing mortality associated with chronic diseases, hence becoming a game changer. Despite researchers having opposing views on the significance of physical activities in lowering mental burden, it is crucial in promoting the well-being of individuals, which can be physical and mental.

Negative Correlation

During the COVID-19 pandemic, various measures and regulations were implemented to ensure the disease was contained. Some of these measures involved social distancing and reducing physical activities in schools and universities. Hui Kioh et al. (2022) investigated the effect of lockdown measures on mental health and physical activities among Malaysian university students. Students aged 18 years and above were selected for the research study. They were selected randomly from private and public universities. Hui Kioh et al. (2022) found a weak negative correlation between physical activity and stress and depression. Imboden et al. (2022) study show that there is a strong negative correlation between physical health and mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. According to Imboden et al. (2022), individuals with mental disorders tend to have sedentary behavior linked to cardiovascular infections and reduced quality of life. This brings the need for implanting physical activity interventions at various life stages to prevent mental disorders.

Physical activity applies to many mental disorders because of its positive general effects. Imboden et al. (2022) argue that there is a significant correlation between physical fitness and symptoms of depression. This is useful in the creation of standardized fitness, which can be used in interventions. Individuals who engage in physical activity and have treatment-resistant depression respond effectively to depression symptoms (Imboden et al., 2022). Despite several researchers’ findings portraying that physical activity has a positive impact in reducing mental health disorders, it varies significantly from one type of activity to another. Zulyniak et al. (2022) group physical activities into recreational and non-recreational. The authors believe that the two are usually perceived as equals, and few researchers have differentiated it in their research. Zulyniak et al. (2022) study focused on comparing the relationship between recreational and non-recreational physical activity on the mental health of Canadian youths aged 12 to 17. The findings of their research show that non-recreational activities had an insignificant effect in reducing mental health outcomes.

However, recreational physical activities portrayed a positive effect on the mental health of the youths. However, the impact of non-recreational physical activities was associated with a protective effect that may result from Type I error. Zulyniak et al. (2022) extended their research and identified that the effect of recreational physical activity varies significantly with gender. Males show a strong negative correlation between recreational physical activity and mental health than females. Adolescents and youths usually have significant problems in managing their mental health problems because of segregation and inadequate support from their peers. Rose and Soundy (2020) conducted a study to investigate the effect of physical activity in reducing or increasing mental health disorders among adolescents that are underprivileged. Rose and Soundy (2020) findings show that adolescents that engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity tend to have a reduced level of mental health issues such as depression. This indicates that engaging in vigorous physical activity helps reduce stress and anxiety levels among children.

Physical activity positively affects people’s lives as it enables individuals to have mental well-being. Bell et al. (2019) showed positive and insignificant correlations between physical activity and mental health symptoms among adolescents. The study portrayed that a protective correlation was identified between the emotional problem subscale and the volume of physical activity. Bell et al. (2019) argue that increasing the volume of physical activity has a positive impact in reducing emotional problems such as nervousness, tearfulness, heartaches, stomachaches, fears, down-hearted, headaches, and lack of confidence. Adolescents that accumulate moderate to vigorous physical activity on a daily basing may reduce their mental health issues. Using physical activity as an intervention method for the youths is vital because it is cost-effective and has low risks.

Poor mental health is a significant cause of diseases worldwide, accompanied by poor physical health, poor education, deprivation, and risky behavior. Mental health problem is a long-term issue that extends from childhood to adulthood. Having positive mental well-being is essential in reducing certain diseases. Individuals with stable mental health conditions enjoy various benefits, such as informed decisions, high intimacy, and clear life goals. Harris (2018) investigated the relationship between mental well-being and physical activity in inactive individuals. The researcher inspected a cross-sectional association between the two variables. The study’s findings show that individuals who did not participate in physical activity reported significant levels of depression symptoms compared to those who did not engage.

Non-Monotonic Correlation

The relationship between physical activity and mental health is conducted on multiple dimensions. Manning et al. (2022) collected data on individuals from Amazon Mechanical Turk. The participants included were between 19 and 68, with the majority being white. Other races included were African American, American Indian, other, and Asian. Manning et al. (2022) findings show a variation in the effect of physical activity in reducing and increasing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. The participants performed differently from one test to another. This implies that physical activity cannot be relied on to solve various mental health conditions. The relationship is heterogenous, leading to both positive and negative correlations. Imboden et al. (2022) also argue that the effectiveness of physical activity in reducing anxiety is heterogeneous. Rose and Soundy (2020) research on the effect of physical activity on adolescents results in inconclusive outcomes. This is supported by some evidence that high levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity do not reduce the levels of stress and depression among adolescents.

Significant levels of depression, stress, and anxiety have a negative impact on the life of adolescents. It has an adverse effect on spiritual, emotional, physical, and cognitive well-being. This brings the need for early intervention and awareness of the issue to prevent the development of a high level of depressive symptoms (Bell et al., 2019). The effect of physical activity on the mental well-being of adolescents raises key questions. It is a global mental health concern that requires significant attention and prevention. Bell et al. (2019) researched the effect of physical activity on lowering mental health symptoms among adolescents. Bell et al. (2019) used a cohort study, and their finding suggests that there was little evidence to ascertain that physical activity helps reduce mental health symptoms among adolescents. The findings of this research are similar to Rose and Soundy’s (2020) study.


The correlation between mental and physical activity and mental health varies significantly. Researchers contradict views on whether physical activity has a positive effect in reducing negative depression symptoms. Physical activity has proven effective in lowering depression symptoms and other mental disorders. It is essential to categorize the type of physical activity since not all have a significant effect. For instance, recreational physical activity reduces mental health disorders, while non-recreational has a weak or insignificant effect. Additionally, age and group are essential determinants of the effect of physical activity. For example, children portray positive results when using physical activity as an intervention method, while adolescents portray insignificant results. The gender of participants also determined the strength of the correlation. Males have a stronger positive correlation between physical activity and mental health than females. However, noon-monotonic correlations are also portrayed in that the relationship is heterogenous, might lead to positive or negative, and cannot be relied upon because of multiple mediating factors.


Bell, S., Audrey, S., Gunnell, D., Cooper, A., & Campbell, R. (2019). The relationship between physical activity, mental well-being and symptoms of mental health disorder in adolescents: A cohort study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 16(1), 1-12.

Harris, M. (2018). The relationship between physical inactivity and mental well-being: Findings from a gamification-based community-wide physical activity intervention. Health Psychology Open, 5(1), 1-16.

Hui Kioh, S., Quin Lim, A., Yie Chong, J., & Keat Chan, Z. (2022). Impact of COVID-19 lockdown on physical activity and mental health among undergraduate students. Jurnal Sains Kesihatan Malaysia, 20(2), 51-61.

Imboden, C., Claussen, M., Seifritz, E., & Gerber, M. (2022). Die Bedeutung von körperlicher Aktivität für die psychische Gesundheit. Praxis, 111(4), 186-191.

Manning, J., Notaro, G., Chen, E., & Fitzpatrick, P. (2022). Fitness tracking reveals task-specific associations between memory, mental health, and physical activity. Scientific Reports, 12(1), 1-11.

Rose, L., & Soundy, A. (2020). The positive impact and associated mechanisms of physical activity on mental health in underprivileged children and adolescents: An integrative review. Behavioral Sciences, 10(11), 1-23.

Zulyniak, S., Williams, J., Bulloch, A., Lukmanji, A., & Patten, S. (2022). Physical activity and mental health: A Cross-sectional study of Canadian youth. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 29(4), 242-252. Web.

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