The Influence of Physical Activity on Psychological Well-Being Among Adolescents and Emerging Adults
McPhie, Meghan Lauren
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Emerging literature has emphasized the importance of considering psychological factors and individual characteristics that result in both positive and negative outcomes over the course of development. One relatively promising promotive factor for psychological well-being during adolescence and emerging adulthood is engagement in physical activity. Although some evidence exists for a link between physical activity and psychological well-being across development, little is known about the mechanisms through which physical activity leads to positive mental outcomes. Using multi-group structural equation modeling (SEM) with latent variables, the current study explored direct and indirect pathways through which physical activity leads to lower levels of depressive symptoms and greater levels of subjective happiness in a cross-sectional community sample of male and female high school and university students. Self-efficacy, perceived social support, and emotion regulation were explored as possible mediating factors in the model. Physical activity had a direct, positive association with subjective happiness, and a direct, negative association with depressed mood in both the adolescent and emerging adult (EA) samples. For adolescents, emotional and social self-efficacy served as indirect pathways for the association between physical activity and psychological well-being. For EAs, there were significant indirect pathways from physical activity to psychological well-being via emotional self-efficacy and family support. Several gender and developmental differences were noted for the psychosocial constructs and the hypothesized pathways. The results suggest that there may be several factors involved in explaining the improved psychosocial well-being associated with physical activity. The study findings are of relevance to researchers, clinicians, educators, and policy-makers, with important implications for informing school-based mental health promotion and intervention programs for youth.