The Relationship Between Children's Psychological Well-being, Habitual Physical Activity, and Sedentary Behaviours
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Publish papers using material that is substantially drawn from my thesis.
Well-being incorporates psychological, social and moral development, the capacity to enter into and sustain satisfying relationships and limit distress and maladaptive behaviour. The benefits of physical activity and dangers of a sedentary lifestyle to health outcomes, e.g. cardio-vascular disease, obesity, diabetes and psychological well-being are well documented children. Due to methodological and measurement problems, research addressing the relationship between psychological well-being and physical activity are inconsistent and weak. This series of studies aimed to overcome the problems of previous research and investigated the relationship between children’s psychological well-being and habitual physical activity. Previous research has highlighted an association between children’s physical activity and individual psychological well-being constructs. However, Masse et al. (1998) argued that psychological well-being should contain the measurement of both positive (e.g. self-esteem) and negative (e.g. depression) psychological states. Subsequently, Parfitt and Eston (2005) identified an association between children’s total physical activity and psychological well-being (anxiety, depression, self-esteem). Limitations of previous studies include the type of physical activity measures used and the measurement of only global self-esteem, which itself is multidimensional. The purpose of this research was to extend and expand on the limitations of the Parfitt and Eston’s (2005) study. Psychological measures included both global, domain and sub-domain measurements of self-esteem, with accelerometry providing estimates of total daily physical activity and time spent in sedentary through to vigorous intensity activity. Study One assessed relationships between psychological well-being and physical activity using the same psychological constructs as Parfitt and Eston (2005), but with physical activity intensity included. Results highlighted an association between self-esteem and time spent in very light activity. Study Two assessed the current data’s applicability with the proposed models and theories related to self-esteem. It was concluded that the current data provided an adequate fit with the proposed models and theories of self-esteem. Study Three introduced the domain and sub-domain constructs of self-esteem and a more valid measure of physical activity. Results highlighted associations at the global, domain and sub-domain levels with predominately time spent in very light and vigorous intensity activity. Very light intensity activity was associated with negative effects while vigorous intensity activity was associated with positive effects. It was hypothesised that if these cross-sectional relationships also existed longitudinally, then an intervention study changing the time children spend in very light and vigorous intensity activity may be beneficial to children’s psychological health. With the relationship between children’s psychological well-being and physical activity clearly highlighted, Study Four assessed the direction of this relationship and aimed to inform a potential intervention study. Longitudinal data were collected over a 12-month period and multi-level modelling was used to analyse the direction of the relationship. Results highlighted a potential indirect effect of time accumulated in very light and vigorous intensity activity on psychological well-being, which reinforced the previous cross-sectional studies. Furthermore, a reciprocal effect was identified between physical activity and the physical self-worth domain. It was concluded that interventions decreasing time spent in very light and increasing vigorous intensity activity may be beneficial to children’s psychological well-being. Study Five aimed to have an impact on children’s psychological well-being, by reducing the time children spent in very light intensity activity, through an increase in daily step counts. Although the intervention decreased the time children spent in sedentary behaviour, there was no influence on psychological well-being. However, there were several methodological limitations that affected the intervention, limiting the conclusions that can be drawn from this study, including a small sample size providing available data for analysis. The results of this thesis show a relationship between children’s psychological well-being and habitual physical activity intensity exists. Further research manipulating the time children accumulate in very light (reduction) and vigorous (increase) intensity activity, can potentially impact positively on the psychological well-being of a normal population of children.
Parfitt, G., Pavey, T., & Rowlands, A. V. (2009). Children's physical activity and psychological health: the relevance of intensity. Acta Pædiatrica, 98(6), 1037-1043.
PhD in Sport and Health Sciences