Web-Based Physical Activity Intervention May Improve Mental Health Outcomes

Compared with the control group, the intervention group experienced significant reductions in depression, anxiety, and stress.

A web-based physical activity intervention improved mental health outcomes, according to study results published in Mental Health and Physical Activity.

Researchers conducted a study of adults (N=501) in Australia who were inactive were recruited via advertisements. Adult participants (N=501) were randomly assigned into video-tailored, text-tailored, and control interventions lasting 9 months. All participants had access to a text-based library with generic physical activity information. The video and text interventions also had access to 8 personally tailored physical activity sessions and an action-planning tool, which was delivered by video or text depending on the intervention arm.

Data from the 2 intervention arms were pooled, and the primary outcomes were the change in the 21-item Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale (DASS-21) scores and Short-Form Health Survey (SF-12) physical component summary (PCS), and mental component summary (MCS) scores.

The intervention (n=334) and control (n=167) cohorts included participants who were aged between 18 and 45 years (52% vs 51%), mostly women (72% vs 72%), and did not meet the physical activity guideline of 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity (77% vs 81%). Over one-third of participants were obese (BMI≥30 kg/m2; 33% vs 42%), respectively.

A web-based intervention…did have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, stress, and mental quality of life.

A total of 179 participants were lost before the 3-month follow-up and 40 more were lost by the 9-month follow-up.

Compared with baseline, the proportion of participants at 9 months who did not meet the criteria for depression increased from 81.7% to 89.6% in the intervention cohort and from 86.2% to 90.1% in the control cohort. Improvements in anxiety, stress, and SF-12 MCS scores were also observed at 9-months compared with baseline, but there was little effect observed on SF-12 PCS scores.

In the general mixed model analysis, there were significant time effects on SF-12 MCS scores (P <.001) and depression (P =.0080), and a significant group-by-time interaction was observed for depression (P =.0427).

In a post hoc analysis involving the imputation of missing data, significant improvements were observed at 9 months compared with baseline for depression within both groups (both P ≤.05), for anxiety within the intervention group (P <.01) and in comparison of the intervention with control group (P <.05), for stress within the intervention group (P <.01), and for SF12 MCS scores within both groups (both P <.01).

Limitations of the study include the fact that most study participants had good mental health status at baseline.

Study authors conclude, “A web-based intervention…did have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, stress, and mental quality of life. To our knowledge our study is the first to examine mental health outcomes in a trial that assessed physical activity changes in response to a web-based intervention. Our findings should be interpreted with some caution and other similar studies should be conducted to assess whether our findings can be replicated.”


Vandelanotte C, Duncan MJ, Plontnikoff RC, et al. Impact of a web-based personally tailored physical activity intervention on depression, anxiety, stress and quality of life: secondary outcomes from a randomized controlled trial. Ment Health Phys Act. 2022;23:100477. doi:10.1016/j.mhpa.2022.100477