Physical fitness directly related to mental health in Compulsory Secondary Education students

The study conducted at the Universitat Jaume I by Carlos Bou Sospedra in his doctoral thesis entitled “Condición física y salud mental en estudiantes de ESO: Proyecto DADOS” has demonstrated that physical fitness is directly related to mental health in the Compulsory Secondary Education students who participated in the study. The thesis was supervised by Dr Diego Moliner, a senior lecturer in the Department of Education and Didactics of Specific Subjects.

Over the last decade, scientific studies have identified a decline in psychological well-being among the teenage population and an increase in cases of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and self-harm. In fact, a large proportion of diagnoses of depression occur during this stage and 60-75% of cases diagnosed in adulthood stem from a disorder that goes back for some years.

Depression often presents in the form of a lack of energy and an increased sedentary lifestyle, which leads to a decreased level of physical fitness. Physical fitness can therefore be considered an indicator of physical and mental health in adolescence, through both biological (improved anti-inflammatory status, neuronal growth or improved neuroplasticity) and psychosocial mechanisms (increased social acceptance or creation of social bonds).

This research has analysed the relationship between physical fitness (comprising cardiorespiratory endurance, musculoskeletal capacity and motor capacity), and mental health. One of the key findings was the relationship between lower levels of physical fitness and higher levels of risk of depression, and that better physical fitness appears to be related to higher levels of self-esteem in adolescents.

The analysis of the data obtained from the participants in the DADOS study has shown no relationship between the strength of lower body muscles and the risk of depression and the level of self-esteem. However, it has revealed that self-esteem may play a mediating role in the association between physical fitness and risk of depression in teenagers, especially among girls. This suggests that the risk of depression in adolescence could be minimised by increasing self-esteem, which in turn could be achieved by improving the physical fitness of this population group.

The thesis is publication-based and therefore includes in one of its sections three research articles published in different high-impact international journals developed within the Physical Activity, Fitness and Health (LIFE) group of the public university in Castelló (

Project data

The students in the sample analysed in the doctoral thesis were part of the DADOS (Sport, Adolescence and Health) project, a 5-year cohort study (2015-2020) which had as its main objective the analysis of the influence of physical activity on physical health, mental health and academic performance during adolescence. To be eligible for selection, students had to have been born in 2002, be in the 2nd year of Compulsory Secondary Education and not to suffer from any physical or mental pathologies.

To date, the DADOS project has given rise to more than 70 papers at national and international congresses and scientific meetings, as well as 25 articles published in high-impact journals indexed in the Journal Citation Report (JCR). In addition, the DADOS project has contributed to the training of 4 doctoral students, who have written their doctoral theses as members of the LIFE research group.

The DADOS project has been funded by the Spanish Ministry of the Economy and Competitiveness and by the Universitat Jaume I of Castelló. It also received two Sunny Sport research scholarships from the company Schweppes Suntory España (years 2015 and 2016).


Journal references:

  • Association between Health-Related Physical Fitness and Self-Rated Risk of Depression in Adolescents: Dados Study. Bou-Sospedra C, Adelantado-Renau M, Beltran-Valls MR, Moliner-Urdiales D. Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2020 Jun 17;17(12):4316
  • Independent and combined influence of physical fitness components on self-esteem in adolescents: DADOS study. Bou-Sospedra C, Adelantado-Renau M, Beltran-Valls MR, Moliner-Urdiales D. Annals of Human Biology, 2021 Dec;48(7-8):550-556
  • The mediating role of self-esteem in the association between physical fitness and risk of depression in adolescents: DADOS Study, C. Bou-Sospedra, M. Adelantado-Renau, M. R. Beltran-Valls & D. Moliner-Urdiales. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2022.

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