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The following is simply a few select studies to give a flavour of the evidence for the importance of physical activity and well-being.

Physical Activity and Depression: Evidence from the Alameda County Study

Terry C. Camacho, Robert E.  Roberts, Nancy B. Lazarus, George A. Kaplan and Richard D. Cohen.

The relationship between the level of physical activity and the risk of subsequent depression was examined using three waves of data from the Alameda County Study. Among subjects who were not depressed at baseline, those who reported a low activity level were at significantly greater risk for depression at the 1974 follow-up than were those who reported high levels of activity at baseline. Adjustments for physical health, socioeconomic status, life events, social supports, and other health habits did not affect the association appreciably.  The researchers argue that these results provide somewhat stronger evidence for an activity-depression link than do previous studies. They also argue for the inclusion of exercise programs as part of community mental health programs. (Am J Epidemiol 1991; 134: 220–31.)

Regular exercise, anxiety, depression and personality: A population-based study

M.H.M. De Moor, , A.L. Beem, J.H. Stubbe, D.I. Boomsma and E.J.C. De Geus.

This was a large study of almost 20,000 adult twins and their families who participated in the study on lifestyle and health from The Netherlands Twin Registry (1991–2002). The study aimed to examine whether regular exercise is associated with anxiety, depression and personality in a large population-based sample as a function of gender and age. The study found that exercisers were on average less anxious (−0.18 SD), depressed (−0.29 SD) and neurotic (−0.14 SD), more extraverted (+0.32 SD) and were higher in dimensions of sensation seeking (from +0.25 SD to +0.47 SD) than non-exercisers. These differences were modest in size, but very consistent across gender and age.(Preventive Medicine, Volume 42, Issue 4, April 2006, Pages 273-279.)

Physical Exercise and Psychological Well-Being: A Population Study in Finland

Hassmen, P., Koivula, N., & Uutela, A.

A total of 3403 participants (1856 women and 1547 men) of the Finnish cardiovascular risk factor survey, ranging in age between 25 and 64, completed questionnaires. Besides answering questions concerning their exercise habits and perceived health and fitness, the participants also completed the Beck Depression Inventory, the State–Trait Anger Scale, the Cynical Distrust Scale, and the Sense of Coherence inventory.

The results of this cross-sectional study suggest that individuals who exercised at least two to three times a week experienced significantly less depression, anger, cynical distrust, and stress than those exercising less frequently or not at all. Furthermore, regular exercisers perceived their health and fitness to be better than less frequent exercisers did. Finally, those who exercised at least twice a week reported higher levels of sense of coherence and a stronger feeling of social integration than their less frequently exercising counterparts.(Preventive Medicine: An international journal devoted to practice and theory. 30(1), 17-25. (2000))

For a review of various research studies on physical activity and mental well-being, particularly on young people, see -

 Whitelaw, Sandy, Swift, Jan, Goodwin Avril, Clark, Darren, Physical Activity and Mental Health: the role of physical activiy in promoting mental wellbeing and preventing mental health problems. An evidence briefing published by NHS Health Scotland, 2008.


Exercising attention within the classroom

Hill, L., Williams JHG., Aucott L., Milne J., Thomson J., Greig J., Munro V., Mon-Williams.

Aim: To investigate whether increased physical exercise during the school day influenced subsequent cognitive performance in the classroom.

Method: A randomized, crossover-design trial (two weeks in duration) was conducted in six mainstream primary schools (1224 children aged 8–11y). No data on sex was available. Children received a teacher-directed, classroom-based programme of physical exercise, delivered approximately 30 minutes after lunch for 15 minutes during one week and no exercise programme during the other (order counterbalanced across participants). At the end of each school day, they completed one of five psychometric tests (paced serial addition, size ordering, listening span, digit-span backwards, and digit-symbol encoding), so that each test was delivered once after exercise and once after no exercise.

Results: General linear modelling analysis demonstrated a significant interaction between intervention and counterbalance group (p<0.001), showing that exercise benefitted cognitive performance. Post-hoc analysis revealed that benefits occurred in participants who received the exercise intervention in the second but not the first week of the experiment and were also moderated by type of test and age group.

Interpretation: Physical exercise benefits cognitive performance within the classroom. The degree of benefit depends on the context of testing and participants' characteristics. This has implications for the role that is attributed to physical exercise within the school curriculum.

(Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 2010 )

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