This prospective longitudinal study assesses the reciprocal relationship between physical activity, including sport participation, and depressive and anxiety symptoms, conceptualized as emotional distress, over time.
Boys and girls are from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development birth cohort (N = 1428). Trajectories of emotional distress symptoms from ages 6 to 10 years, assessed by teachers, were generated using latent class analysis. Multinomial logistic regression analyses examined sport participation at age 5 years, measured by parents, as a predictor of emotional distress trajectory outcomes. Analyses of covariance compared physical activity, measured by children at age 12 years, across different trajectories of emotional distress.
We identified 3 emotional distress trajectories: “low” (77%), “increasing” (12%), and “declining” (11%). Boys who never participated in sport at age 5 years were more likely to be in the “increasing” (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 1.63, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.01–2.63) or “declining” (adjusted OR = 2.19, 95% CI = 1.28–3.75) emotional distress trajectories compared with boys who participated in any sporting activity. Furthermore, boys in the “low” emotional distress trajectory demonstrated better physical activity outcomes at age 12 years (F(2, 1438) = 6.04, p < 0.05). These results, exclusively for boys, are above and beyond pre-existing individual and family factors.
This study supports the relevance of enhancing current public health strategies to understand and promote physical activity and emotional adjustment in early childhood to achieve better a more active lifestyle and overall health across development. We underscore male needs for physical activity for health promotion.