Leisure time physical activity and depressive symptoms among adolescents in Sweden

Background. Mental health problems have increased noticeably among adolescents. Physical activity has been identified as an important factor in the promotion of mental health. The purpose of this study was to explore how leisure time physical activity was associated with depressive symptoms among adolescents in Sweden.

Methods. Using binary logistic regression we analyzed Swedish data collected as part of the Children of Immigrants: Longitudinal Survey in Four European Countries. The complete sample used for analysis consisted of 3,787 adolescents (including 1,855 boys and 1,932 girls).

Results. Adolescents who participated in physical activity during their leisure time on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis had substantially lower odds of often feeling depressed than those who were physically inactive. This pattern applied to both boys and girls. Relative to boys, girls had significantly higher odds of often feeling depressed.

Conclusions. The findings of this study suggested that participation in physical activity regularly during leisure time was associated with a lower level of depressive symptoms among adolescents in Sweden. Because of the cross-sectional study design conclusions about causality cannot be drawn. Future research based on longitudinal data is needed to further explore the mechanisms behind the association. This study calls for recognition of the value of physical activity in promoting mental health among adolescents.