Physical Activity Patterns Among U.S. Adults with and without Serious Psychological Distress

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Public Health Reports

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A physically active lifestyle is recommended for overall health—both physical and mental. Serious psychological distress (SPD) is associated with adverse health behaviors. We compared patterns of physical activity (PA) among adults with and without SPD using current public health guidelines for PA and examined whether adults with SPD were physically active at recommended levels.


We used data from the 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to assess SPD using the Kessler 6 (K6) scale of nonspecific psychological distress and PA categories based on the 2008 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines. Complete data were available for 78,886 adults in 16 states that used an optional BRFSS mental illness and stigma module containing the K6 scale. We performed multiple logistic regression analyses to estimate prevalence ratios (PRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs).


The unadjusted prevalence of SPD was 3.9% (95% CI 3.6, 4.2), and the age-adjusted prevalence of SPD was 3.8% (95% CI 3.5, 4.1). After adjusting for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, employment, body mass index, smoking status, and heavy drinking, adults with SPD were significantly less likely to be physically active at recommended levels than adults without SPD. PRs were attenuated but remained significant after further adjustment for limitations to PA.


Adults with SPD are less likely to meet current PA recommendations than adults without SPD, highlighting the need for targeted interventions.