Is there a link between self-perceived stress and physical activity levels in Scottish adolescents?

Cowley, J., Kiely, J., orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-9817-0224 and Collins, D. orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-7601-0454 (2017) Is there a link between self-perceived stress and physical activity levels in Scottish adolescents? International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health . ISSN 0334-0139

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It is becoming more evident that Physical Activity (PA) has a moderating effect on the negative health consequences of excessive psycho-social stress (Stults-Kolehmainen & Sinha, 2014).

Recent literature has highlighted that the relationship between stress and physical activity is bidirectional (Stults-Kolehmainen & Sinha, 2014). Furthermore, it has been suggested that the stress response impedes levels of participation in PA (Lutz, Stults-Kolehmainen, & Bartholomew, 2010). However, the impacts of accumulating life stress on PA remain under-investigated.

i. To determine if significant differences exist in uptake of PA between adolescents who have experienced high life stress, in comparison to those who have not
ii. To investigate the relationship between perceived stress in adolescents and PA.
iii. To investigate whether high life stress can explain differences in other health behaviours, such as smoking and alcohol consumption


A purposive sampling strategy was employed. Adolescents from a low SES background who had experienced extensive life stress, were compared with more economically-affluent matched-controls. PA patterns were measured using the ‘Physical Activity Questionnaire for High School (PAQA)’(Kowalski, Crocker, & Kowalski, 1997) Stress scores were assessed using the 10 item version of the perceived stress scale (PSS-10). Statistical analysis was conducted


PA scores were significantly different between groups (p˂0.05), with the low SES group significantly less active every day (p˂0.05) except on Saturdays (Mann-Whitney U= 31.0, Z=-1.594, p = ˃0.05). Furthermore, Spearman’s correlation showed a negative relationship between total stress levels and PA during spare time ( rs = -0.61,n=10, p= ˂0.05). A similar relationship was evident for: PA levels during lunchtime, (rs = -0.69, n= 10, p= ˂0.05), evenings ( rs = -0.57, n= 10, p = ˂0.05) and for overall PA over a seven day period (rs =0.81, n = 10, p= ˂0.05).


These findings add to existing evidence suggesting stress, during adolescent transition periods, impedes PA uptake. Physical Educators should incorporate the stress remediating effects of PA into school practice, and strive to inculcate leisure-based physical activities promoting sustainable PA, especially with adolescents likely to have been exposed to excessive stress loads during critical developmental periods.

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