College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Summer 8-22-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Jocelyn Smith Carter, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Antonio Polo, Ph.D.


This thesis examines how physical activity influences suicidal ideation longitudinally in a population-based sample of adolescents in grades 7 through 12, as well as investigates potential mediating and moderating factors of this association. Physical activity has been found to be protective against depression and suicidal behaviors in various populations. Few studies have explored the relationship between physical activity and suicidal ideation in a representative sample of adolescents, and even fewer have examined this relationship prospectively. This study included measures of physical activity, self-esteem, social support, and suicidal ideation from Wave I and Wave 2 of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health study. This thesis presents a comprehensive model examining self-esteem and social support as mediators of the relationship between physical activity and suicidal ideation, as well as the moderating effect of gender in all pathways. Self-esteem and social support were not found to mediate the relationship between physical activity and suicidal ideation, though both significantly predicted suicidal ideation separately. Gender moderation was found such that male adolescents reporting low physical activity levels were more likely to report higher levels of suicidal ideation than male adolescents with high physical activity levels. In contrast, female adolescents reporting low levels of physical activity were more likely to report lower levels of suicidal ideation than females with high physical activity levels, but this association was not significant The findings of this study illustrate that physical activity may serve as a protective factor of suicidal ideation in adolescents, though this effect may vary according to gender. Future research should focus on other potential mediating and moderating factors, as well as obtain more comprehensive measures of physical activity, to aid in the promotion of healthy behaviors and the development of prevention and intervention prot,>rams for adolescents experiencing suicidal ideation.