Light-intensity physical activity and mental ill health: a systematic review of observational studies in the general population

Mireia Felez-Nobrega, Judit Bort-Roig, Ruimin Ma, Eugenia Romano, Matthew Faires, Brendon Stubbs, Emmanuel Stamatakis, Beatriz Olaya, Josep Maria Haro, Lee Smith, Jae Il Shin, Min Seo Kim, Ai Koyanagi

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8 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Most of theevidence has focused on examining the influence of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity on mental health, but he role of light intensity physical activity (LIPA) is less understood. The purpose of this systematic review was to assess the relationship between time spent in LIPA and mental ill health across the lifespan. Methods: Data were obtained from online databases (Medline, Embase, Scopus, PsychInfo and CINAHL). The search and collection of eligible studies was conducted up to May 28, 2020. Observational studies conducted in the general population and reporting on the association between LIPA (1.6–2.9 metabolic equivalents; either self-reported or device-based measured) and mental ill health were included. Results: Twenty-two studies were included in the review (16 cross-sectional and 6 longitudinal). In older adults (≥ 65 years) and adults (18–64 years), the evidence examining the relationship between LIPA and depressive symptoms is mixed. Data on anxiety, psychological distress and overall mental health are scarce, and results are inconclusive. There is no evidence suggesting favorable associations between LIPA and anxiety in college students. Finally, very limited data was found in adolescents (11–17 years) (n = 2 studies) and children (6–10 years) (n = 2 studies), but the evidence suggests that LIPA does not influence mental health outcomes in these age groups. Conclusions: This review provided mostly cross-sectional evidence indicating that LIPA may not be associated with mental health outcomes across age groups. Future research efforts employing prospective research designs are warranted to better understand the role of LIPA on mental ill health across age groups.

Original languageEnglish
Article number123
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Dec

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Brendon Stubbs is supported by a Clinical Lectureship (ICA-CL-2017-03-001) jointly funded by Health Education England (HEE) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Brendon Stubbs is part funded by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. Brendon Stubbs also holds active grants with the Medical Research Council (GCRF and multimorbidity calls) and Guys and St Thomas Charity (GSTT). Brendon Stubbs also has been awarded a program NIHR Grant in relation to physical activity and severe mental illness (SPACES). Brendon Stubbs has received honorarium from ASICS Europe BV & ParachuteBH. Brendon Stubbs has published a book on exercise and mental illness and is on the Editorial board of Ageing Research Reviews, Mental Health and Physical Activity, The Journal of Evidence Based Medicine and The Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of mentioned above, the NHS, the NIHR, the Department of Health and Social Care, the MRC, GSTT or any of the aforementioned. MF-N is supported by a postdoctoral fellowship of the ISCIII (CD20/00036).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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