15 - Physical activity and psychological well-being  pp. 207-229

Physical activity and psychological well-being

By A. Steptoe

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This chapter concerns the effects of physical activity on mood and mental health. There are three major reasons for considering this topic in the context of a symposium on physical activity and health. The first is that mental health is one of the important components of complete well-being that has been associated with exercise. Physical activity may be useful in reducing psychological distress among people in the general population, and in the treatment of more serious problems such as clinical depression and anxiety. Secondly, physical activity may help people cope with stress more effectively, and reduce emotional reactions to stressful life events. Thirdly, an understanding of the beneficial psychological consequences of physical activity may help to enhance adherence to training programmes, and the development of schedules that minimize dropout and foster lifelong active habits. Such information would be valuable both to the enhancement of physical activity in the general population, and to the use of exercise training with special groups such as post-infarction patients (O'Connor et al., 1989).

Evidence linking physical activity with psychological well-being comes from a number of sources. At the anecdotal level, psychological benefits have been trumpeted for many years by exercise enthusiasts. Johnsgård (1989), for example, asserts that he has ‘never met a depressed runner’.