Purpose: Previous studies have shown a positive association between being engaged or challenged through a leisure activity and good mental health; however, this relationship may vary by the extent to which individuals feel challenged at work or school. This study aims to examine whether a challenging work/study (or the lack of it) moderates the relationship between engaging in challenging leisure activity and mental health. Design/methodology/approach: Data from 2,406 adults 16–64 years old from The Danish Mental Health and Well-Being Survey 2016 were linked to Danish national register-based data. Mental well-being (outcome) was assessed using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale and depression/anxiety symptoms (outcome) were assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire-4. Multivariable linear regressions were performed to estimate the association between challenging leisure activity (predictor) and challenging work/study (potential moderator). Findings: Overall, engaging in a challenging leisure activity was positively associated with mental well-being and negatively associated with anxiety symptoms. For these two, a challenging work/study significantly moderated the relationships. The positive association between a challenging activity and mental well-being was strongest among individuals not employed or studying as well as individuals feeling less challenged at work/school. Similarly, the negative association between a challenging activity and anxiety symptoms was strongest among individuals not employed or studying as well as individuals feeling less challenged at work/school. Among individuals with a very challenging work/study, challenging leisure activity was not associated with anxiety symptoms. Finally, engaging in a challenging leisure activity did not significantly predict depression symptoms. Originality/value: Mental health promotion strategies may focus on promoting challenging leisure activities especially among groups not employed or enrolled in education or among individuals that do not feel challenged through their work or studies. The results may further have implications for efforts to address and protect employee/student mental health at workplaces or schools.
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