College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 6-9-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jocelyn Carter, PhD

Second Advisor

Susan Tran, PhD

Third Advisor

Kathryn Grant, PhD


Physical activity (PA) is associated with numerous physical and mental health benefits, such as decreased rates of cardiovascular disease and depression. Stress-response systems may play an important role in this relationship as PA has been shown to cause adaptations to both physiological and psychological stress systems. Less is known about the short and long-term effects of PA on depressive symptoms in adolescents even though adolescence marks an important period of development with regard to changes in rates of depression and physical activity. The objectives of this study were to evaluate concurrent and prospective associations of PA on depressive symptoms in adolescence and associated mechanisms of influence. One hundred eighty-seven urban high school students (11-18 years old; 84% racial/ethnic minority) completed stress interviews and mood questionnaires at time 1, followed by 5 days of salivary cortisol samples and daily diary reports on PA, mood, and stressors. Participants returned 6-9 months later (time 2) to complete additional stress interviews and mood questionnaires. Multilevel models were used to estimate within- and between-person associations of daily PA with cortisol patterns and mood over time, as well as potential moderators and mediators. Youth who engaged in more daily PA on average, reported fewer negative mood symptoms and exhibited lower cortisol AUC on average compared to less active counterparts. Same day and previous day PA predicted fewer self-reported negative mood symptoms. Coping self-efficacy was a significant mediator between daily PA and negative mood for girls, but not boys. Gender also moderated prospective associations between PA and depressive symptoms, such that for males there was a significant positive relationship between time 1 PA and time 2 depressive symptoms, whereas for females, the relationship was nonsignificant. Findings provide evidence of concurrent and prospective associations between PA and depressive symptoms in adolescence.

SLP Collection


Included in

Psychology Commons