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

Joe Cowley, John Kiely, Dave Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Accumulating life stress is a driving factor underlying the most pervasive, incapacitating health conditions in 21st century, First World societies. The most widely supported strategy, for remediating the negative health consequences of elevated life stress, is physical activity (PA). Evidence also suggests accumulating life stress impedes PA uptake. Thus, ironically, persistently elevated life stress not only negatively impacts multiple dimensions of health, simultaneously it may also reduce likelihood of participation in the most effective remediating strategy, PA. This study sought to compare patterns of PA uptake in adolescents of low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds, a significant risk factor for elevated biopsychosocial stress, with more affluent age-matched peers. Related health behaviours such as smoking and alcohol consumption were also analysed. Methods: PA patterns were determined using the Physical Activity Questionnaire for High School (PAQA). Stress scores were assessed using the 10-item perceived stress scale (PSS-10). Results: PA scores were significantly different between groups (p < 0.05). Low SES participants were significantly less active every day (p < 0.05), excepting Saturdays (U = 31.0, Z = -1.594, p = < 0.05). Spearman's correlation demonstrated an inverse relationship between total stress and PA during spare time (r s = -0.61, n = 10, p = < 0.05). Conclusion: These findings add to mounting evidence suggesting excessively accumulating life stress, not only diminishes health, but simultaneously reduces PA uptake in vulnerable populations. Thereby highlighting the bidirectional relationship between stress and PA. These findings support proposals that conventional Physical Education practice should be re-framed to not only provide PA during school years, but to promote lifelong interest in PA.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20160104
JournalInternational Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health
Issue number1
Early online date18 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • adolescents
  • exercise
  • physical activity
  • physical education
  • stress

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