Nearly one fifth of American adults suffer from mental health issues, yet many treatments have side effects and stigma attached. Physical activity can be an effective treatment for mental health disorders, but most promotion efforts fail. One understudied aspect of physical activity is the specific mode, including if it engages others, and how this may relate to mental health. This study examined the potential relationship between different modes of physical activity and the frequency of mental distress.
Data from the 2000 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System were analyzed in 2015 to determine the relationship between participation in different modes of physical activity and frequent mental distress.
Data were obtained on physical activity and frequent mental distress from 183,341 adults (aged 18–99 years, 51.9% female, 57.4% overweight/obese, 9.5% frequent mental distress). Prevalence of mental distress for those reporting activities was contrasted against walking alone. People who participated in tennis had 46% lower odds (95% CI=0.35, 0.84) of frequent mental distress. Approaching significance, non-team play sports were associated with 18% lower odds (95% CI=0.66, 1.01) of frequent mental distress, compared with walking alone.
Activity modes are associated with mental health outcomes above and beyond the frequency and duration of activity. Given the social and play nature of the activities, this may reflect the relational aspect, enjoyment, or a combination of both. These results suggest that adding social or affective components to physical activity may enhance engagement and retention in activity promotion efforts and their benefits on mental health.