Movement Behaviors Associated with Mental Health Among US Military Service Members

Published in: Military Psychology (2021). doi: 10.1080/08995605.2021.1987084

by Lilian Perez, Lu Dong, Robin L. Beckman, Sarah O. Meadows

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Compared to the general adult population, military service members experience an excess burden of mental health problems (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD). Physical activity, screen time, and sleep (i.e., movement behaviors) are independently associated with mental health, but their combined effects are poorly understood, particularly in military populations. We analyzed data from active component service members in the national 2018 Health Related Behaviors Survey (N = 17,166). Weighted gender-stratified logistic regression models examined the associations of meeting recommended/healthy levels of moderate-to vigorous physical activity (MVPA), screen time, and sleep duration—separately and in combination (none, some, all)—with PTSD, suicide ideation, and serious psychological distress. In both men and women, meeting sleep recommendations was associated with reduced odds of each outcome. Meeting MVPA recommendations was associated with lower odds of serious psychological distress only in men (OR = 0.76, 95% CI: 0.58–1.00). No/low screen time was associated with lower odds of suicide ideation only in women (OR = 0.66, 95% CI: 0.45–0.95). The odds of all three outcomes were lower in those who reported some or all (vs. none) recommended/healthy movement behaviors, with the lowest odds found in the "all" group, suggesting a possible dose-response relationship. Findings can help inform multiple behavior change interventions to improve service members' psychological fitness and military readiness.

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