Mental wellbeing and physical activity levels: A prospective cohort study

Julie E. Ibáñez Román, Ola Ekholm, Maria Holst Algren, Ai Koyanagi, Sarah Stewart-Brown, Eric E. Hall, Brendon Stubbs, Vibeke Koushede, Lau Caspar Thygesen, Ziggi Ivan Santini*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background: Although much research has been devoted to examining the relationship between negative mental health states (e.g., depression) and physical activity, the literature is scarce in terms of associations between positive mental health states (e.g., mental wellbeing) and physical activity. The objective of this study was to examine the association between mental wellbeing measured in 2019 and physical activity measured in 2020 (including bi-directionality). Methods: Data stem from a Danish nationally-representative panel of 5000 adults (aged 15+ years) conducted in 2019 and 2020, which was linked to register data. The SWEMWBS scale was used to assess mental wellbeing. The outcome was ≥150 min of physical activity per week (self-reported). Logistic regression models were performed, adjusting for covariates and physical activity at baseline. Results: Each point increase in mental wellbeing in 2019 positively predicted ≥150 min of physical activity per week in 2020 (OR = 1.03, 95%CI 1.01–1.05). Compared to low mental wellbeing, moderate wellbeing was associated with higher odds (OR = 1.51, 95%CI 1.10–2.08) of engaging in ≥150 min of physical activity, while the odds among those with high mental wellbeing were even higher (OR = 1.93, 95%CI 1.37–2.72). The results reflected a dose-response pattern. Finally, the reverse pathway was noted as well, i.e., physical activity in 2019 positively predicted mental wellbeing in 2020. Conclusions: The results show that favorable mental health status – beyond the absence of mental illness – positively predicts adherence to recommended physical activity levels in the following year. Initiatives to promote mental wellbeing may be instrumental as a means to protect and enhance general health by positively influencing engagement in physical activity. Conversely, increasing physical activity levels may protect against mental illness and further enhance population mental wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100498
JournalMental Health and Physical Activity
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Velliv Foreningen (Grant No. 20-0438).


  • Exercise
  • Health behavior
  • Mental health
  • Physical activity
  • Public health
  • Wellbeing


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