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Concurrent and prospective associations between physical activity, walking and mental health in older women
  1. Kristiann C Heesch1,2,
  2. Nicola W Burton2,
  3. Wendy J Brown2
  1. 1Queensland University of Technology, School of Public Health and Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  2. 2The University of Queensland, School of Human Movement Studies, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kristiann C Heesch, Queensland University of Technology, School of Public Health, Brisbane, Queensland 4059, Australia; k.heesch{at}


Background Leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) shows promise for reducing the risk of poor mental health in later life, although gender- and age-specific research is required to clarify this association. This study examined the concurrent and prospective relationships between both LTPA and walking with mental health in older women.

Methods Community-dwelling women aged 73–78 years completed mailed surveys in 1999, 2002 and 2005 for the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health. Respondents reported their weekly minutes of walking, moderate LTPA and vigorous LTPA. Mental health was defined as the number of depression and anxiety symptoms, as assessed with the Goldberg Anxiety and Depression Scale (GADS). Multivariable linear mixed models, adjusted for socio-demographic and health-related variables, were used to examine associations between five levels of LTPA (none, very low, low, intermediate and high) and GADS scores. For women who reported walking as their only LTPA, associations between walking and GADS scores were also examined. Women who reported depression or anxiety in 1999 were excluded, resulting in data from 6653 women being included in these analyses.

Results Inverse dose–response associations were observed between both LTPA and walking with GADS scores in concurrent and prospective models (p<0.001). Even low levels of LTPA and walking were associated with lowered scores. The lowest scores were observed in women reporting high levels of LTPA or walking.

Conclusion The results support an inverse dose–response association between both LTPA and walking with mental health, over 3 years in older women without depression or anxiety.

  • Cohort studies
  • exercise
  • longitudinal studies
  • mental health
  • risk factors
  • depression
  • elderly
  • longitudinal data analysis
  • public health epidemiology

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  • Funding We are grateful to the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing for funding of the ALSWH. KCH was supported by a NHMRC programme grant (Owen, Bauman and Brown; No 301200) in Physical Activity and Health at The University of Queensland, School of Human Movement Studies. NWB was supported by a Heart Foundation Research Fellowship (PH08B3905) and an NHMRC Capacity Building Grant (252977) and Programme Grant (301200) at The University of Queensland, School of Human Movement Studies. Funding sources had no role in this study.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by the University of Newcastle Ethics Committee, Newcastle, Australia.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.