Physical activity is directly related to the risk of depression in married women, but not in married men

In a recent study published in BMC Public Health, researchers explored the association between physical exercise and the risk of depression among married people.

To study: Relationship between physical activity and risk of depression in a married group. Image credit: ViDI Studio/


Depression is a global health problem that causes chronic discomfort, back pain, headaches, insomnia, anger, and impaired family connections.

Physical activity, including aerobic and anaerobic exercise, positive yoga, and tai chi, can help relieve sadness. Physical exercise and depression have a complicated association that varies by gender and marital status.

According to studies, poor marital status reduces participation in physical activity, while excellent marital status promotes it. Gender also influences sports behavior, with married women participating in less physical activity than married men.

About the study

In the present study, researchers investigated whether physical activity influenced the risk of depression among married adults.

The team included 15,607 married people from the 2020 China Family Panel Studies (CFPS) conducted by the Institute of Social Sciences (ISSS) at Peking University, excluding 3,734 people with incomplete or interrupted interviews and 9,249 with data that missing or ineligible.

They assess the risk of depression using the Depression Scale of the Center for Epidemiological Studies (CES-D), with scores above 20 indicating a high risk.

Physical exercise assessment excluded cycling and walking to and from work. The team used the non-parametric chi-square test, the non-parametric Mann-Whitney U test and binary logistic regressions to investigate the impact of physical exercise on the risk of depression among married people.

They also included proximal factors associated with psychological status and physical behavior, such as age, sex, residence, marital status, and employment status.

Other factors include marital relationships, vital feelings, and social relationships. The components of the marital relationship assessed were marital satisfaction in terms of the partners’ economic and household contributions. Life feelings investigated were life satisfaction, subjective well-being and self-perceived fitness.

The social relationship components explored were subjective interpersonal relationships and subjective social reputation. The researchers explored gender differences by making separate comparisons between the low-risk and high-risk depression groups.


In total, 365 (4.8%) men and 527 (6.6%) women were at high risk for depression; researchers found physical activity associated with depression risk among study participants.

They observed higher levels of depression in rural areas, the west side, a low level of education, and middle-aged and elderly populations.

The only significant risk was found among women with children under 16, while the group of married women without children under 16 was more depressed. Regarding the work situation, unemployed men were more depressed than women. The chi-square test revealed no significant differences between the two groups.

The Mann-Whiteny test found no significant difference in perceived social status between married women and male partners. However, married boys demonstrated extremely significant disparities on all factors.

Among low-risk individuals, the researchers found sex-based differences in exercise frequency, marital satisfaction, financial contribution, household help, self-perceived general health, and subjective well-being.

They found gender differences in marital satisfaction, financial contribution, household contributions, self-perceived general health, and social status among high-risk individuals.

There were statistically significant sex-based differences in exercise frequency among low-risk individuals, but none among their high-risk counterparts.

The results indicate that researchers should consider gender differences when investigating the association between physical exercise and risk of depression.

After adjusting for important demographic and cognitive characteristics, binary regressions revealed that the relationship between exercise frequency and depression in women was statistically significant (odds ratio, 0.9).

Physical activity was inversely related to the risk of depression in women. However, the link with depression in men was not statistically significant (odds ratio, 1.0).

Greater life satisfaction, self-perceived fitness, and subjective well-being reduced the likelihood of depression. Marital satisfaction also influenced the risk of depression in women, with higher satisfaction reducing the risk. Male depression risk was related to subjective interpersonal relationships, but female depression risk was not.


The results of the study showed a negative link between physical activity and depression in marital relationships, especially among women, indicating that dealing with unpleasant emotions among married women could improve happiness and family harmony.

Although there was no significant association between physical activity and depression in married men, spousal depression may have an impact on family functioning and marital happiness.

Physical activity can help relieve mental distress and maintain family harmony. The report proposes increasing attention to women’s mental health, improving social support networks for women’s participation in sport and the enrichment of material, opportunity and cultural resources.

Regular physical activity, especially sports that require collective involvement, can help energize the family dynamic.

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