Self-esteem mediates associations of physical activity with anxiety in college women

Matthew P Herring, Patrick J O'Connor, Rodney K Dishman
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2014, 46 (10): 1990-8

PURPOSE: Why physically active people report lower anxiety than those who are inactive is not well understood. This study examined whether physical self-concept and self-esteem would mediate associations of self-reported physical activity with anxiety disorder symptoms in young women, a population with elevated risk for developing an anxiety disorder.

METHODS: College women (N = 1036, mean ± SD = 19.7 ± 2.9 yr) completed a physical activity recall, the Psychiatric Diagnostic Screening Questionnaire, and the Physical Self-Description Questionnaire. Structural equation modeling was used to test hypotheses.

RESULTS: Physical activity had inverse, indirect associations with symptoms of social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder that were expressed through its positive association with specific and global physical self-concept and self-esteem. The results were independent of similar relations with symptoms of major depressive disorder as well as the estimates of body fatness and use of psychotropic medications.

CONCLUSIONS: These correlational findings provide initial evidence to warrant experimental efficacy trials of whether physical activity will reduce the risk of anxiety disorders in young women by positive influences on physical self-concept and self-esteem.

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