Associations of self-reported physical activity and anxiety symptoms and status among 7,874 Irish adults across harmonised datasets: a DEDIPAC-study

Cillian Mc Dowell, Angela Carlin, Laura Capranica, Christina Dillon, Janas Harrington, Jeroen Lakerveld, Anne Loyen, Fiona Chun Man Ling, Johannes Brug, Ciaran Mac Donncha, Matthew Herring

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Background: Anxiety is an adaptive response to an objective or perceived threat; however, when symptoms become severe and chronic it that can become a maladaptive anxiety disorder. Limited evidence suggests that physical activity may be associated with prevention against anxiety. This study uses data from The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) and The Mitchelstown Cohort Study to investigate cross-sectional associations between physical activity and anxiety symptoms and status among Irish adults. Methods: Both datasets were harmonized (n = 7874). The short form International Physical Activity Questionnaire measured physical activity. Participants were classified as meeting World Health Organization physical activity guidelines (≥150 min weekly of moderate intensity physical activity, ≥75 min weekly of vigorous intensity physical activity, or ≥ 600 MET-minutes) or not. They were also divided into three groups based on weekly MET-minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (Low: 0-599; Moderate: 600-1199; High: ≥1200), and three groups based on weekly minutes of walking (Low: 0-209; Moderate: 210-419; High: 420+). Anxiety symptoms were measured by the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale with a score of ≥8 indicating anxiety. Binomial logistic regression, adjusted for relevant confounders examined physical activity-anxiety associations. Results: Females had higher rates of anxiety than males (28.0% vs 20.0%; p < 0.001). Following adjustment for relevant covariates, meeting physical activity guidelines was associated with 13.5% (95% CI: 2.0-23.7; p = 0.023) lower odds of anxiety. Moderate and High physical activity were associated with 13.5% (- 11.0-32.6; p = 0.254) and 13.6% (1.4-4.2; p = 0.030) lower odds of anxiety compared to Low physical activity, respectively. Moderate and High walking were associated with 2.1% (- 14.5-16.3; p = 0.789) and 5.1% (- 9.3-17.6; p = 0.467) lower odds of anxiety compared to Low walking, respectively. Conclusion: Meeting physical activity guidelines is associated with lower odds of anxiety, but the strength of associations did not increase considerably with increased physical activity levels.

Original languageEnglish
Article number365
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Early online date20 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 20 Mar 2020


  • Cross-sectional
  • Elderly
  • Ireland
  • Mental health
  • Physical activity


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