Skip to main content Accessibility help

Does sport have a protective effect against suicide?

  • Bettina Müller (a1) (a2), Klaus Georgi (a1), Axel Schnabel (a3) and Barbara Schneider (a1)


Aim – The association between sporting activities, or lack there of, and suicidal behaviour has not yet been clarified. The objective of this study was to determine, if sports participation has an impact on risk for completed suicide. Methods – Axis I and Axis II disorders, sociodemographic factors, and current and former sports activities, including various sports disciplines, were assessed by a semi-structured interview by psychological autopsy method in 163 suicides and by personal interview in 396 living population-based control persons. Results – Current sports activities (OR = 0.24, 95%CI, 0.15 to 0.39; OR = 0.27, 95%CI, 0.16 to 0.45) and sports activities at some point in life (OR = 0.33, 95%CI, 0.18 to 0.62; OR = 0.40, 95%CI, 0.23 to 0.68, after adjustment for axis I and II disorders or educational level, each) were associated with decreased suicide risk. Conclusions – Current sports activities and sports activities at some point in life may reduce suicide risk.

Declaration of Interest: Barbara Schneider got research funding as young scientist for the project “Psychopathological, sociodemographic, psychosocial, and work-related risk factors for suicide” from the faculty representative committee of the Faculty of Medicine, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University of Frankfurt/Main. Furthermore, “Nachlaβ Martha Schmelz”, part of the university foundation of Frankfurt am Main, supported the research project. There was no support from drug companies related to the present paper. Barbara Schneider, Klaus Georgi, and Axel Schnabel are employed at the Goethe-University Hospital and Faculty of Medicine. Bettina Müller is employed at the Markus Hospital, Frankfurt /Main.


Corresponding author

Address fo correspondence: PD Dr. B. Schneider, Center of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Psychosomatics, and psychother apy, Goethe-University Frankfurt/Main, Heinrich-Hoffmann-Str. 10, D-60528 Frankfurt/Main (Germany). Fax: +49-69-6301.5290, E-mail:


Hide All
Appleby, L., Cooper, J., Amos, T. & Faragher, B. (1999). Psychological autopsy of suicides by people under 35. British Journal of Psychiatry 175, 168174.
Baum, A.L. (2005). Suicide in athletes: a review and commentary. Clinics in Sports Medicine 24, 853869.
Bauman, A.E., Sallis, J.F., Dzewaltowski, D.A. & Owen, N. (2002). Toward a better understanding of the influences on physical activity. The role of determinants, correlates, causal variables, mediators, moderators, and confounders. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 23, Suppl. 2, 514.
Brosnahan, J., Steffen, L.M., Lytle, L., Patterson, J. & Boostrom, A. (2004). The relation between physical activity and mental health among Hispanic and Non-Hispanic white adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 158, 818823.
Brosse, A.L., Sheets, E.S., Lett, H.S. & Blumenthal, J.A. (2002). Exercise and the treatment of clinical depression in adults: recent findings and future directions. Sports Medicine 32, 741760.
Brown, D.R. & Blanton, C.J. (2002). Physical activity, sports participation, and suicidal behavior among college students. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 34, 10871896.
Brown, D.R., Galuska, D.A., Zhang, J., Eaton, D.K., Fulton, J.E., Lowry, R. & Maynard, L.M. (2007). Physical activity, sports participation, and suicidal behaviour: US High school Students. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 39, 22482257.
Camacho, T.C., Roberts, R.E., Lazarus, N.B., Kaplan, G.A. & Cohen, R.D. (1991). Physical activity and depression: evidence from the Alameda County study. American Journal of Epidemiology 134, 220231.
Carrasco, L., Villaverde, C. & Oltras, C.M. (2007). Endorphin responses to stress induced by competitive swimming event. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 47, 239245.
Cavanagh, J.T.O., Carson, A.J., Sharpe, M. & Lawrie, S.M. (2003). Psychologcial autopsy studies of suicide: a systematic review. Psychological Medicine 33, 395405.
Cheng, A.T.A., Chen, T.H.H., Chen, C.C. & Jenkins, R. (2000). Psychosocial and psychiatric risk factors for suicide. Case-control psychological autopsy study. British Journal of Psychiatry 177, 360365.
Chioqueta, A.P. & Stiles, T.C. (2007). Cognitive factors, engagement in sport, and suicide risk. Archives of Suicide Research 11, 375390.
Choquet, M., Kovess, V. & Poutignat, N. (1993). Suicidal thoughts among adolescents: an intercultural approach. Adolescence 28, 649659.
Dua, J. & Hargreaves, L. (1992). Effect of aerobic exercise on negative affect, positive affect, stress, and depression. Perceptual and Motor Skills 75, 355361.
Dunn, A.L. & Dishman, R.K. (1991). Exercise and the neurobiology of depression. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews 19, 4198.
Dunn, A.L., Trivedi, M.H., Kampert, J.B., Clark, C.G. & Chambliss, H.O. (2005). Exercise treatment for depression: efficacy and dose response. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 28, 18.
Ernst, C., Olson, A.K., Pinel, J.P., Lam, R.W. & Christie, B.R. (2006). Antidepressant effects of exercise: evidence for an adult-neurogen-esis hypothesis? Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience 31, 8492.
Farmer, M.E., Locke, B.Z., Moscicki, E.K., Dannenberg, A.L., Larson, D.B. & Radloff, L.S. (1988). Physical activity and depressive symptoms: the NHANES I epidemiologic follow-up study. American Journal of Epidemiology 128, 13401351.
Hawton, K., Appleby, L., Platt, S., Foster, T., Cooper, J., Malmberg, A. & Simkin, S. (1998). The psychological autopsy approach to studying suicide: a review of methodological issues. Journal of Affective Disorders 50, 269276.
Hawton, K., Simkin, S., Rue, J., Haw, C., Barbour, F., Clements, A., Sakarovitch, C. & Deeks, J. (2002). Suicide in female nurses in England and Wales. Psychological Medicine 32, 239250.
Heitkamp, H.C., Huber, W. & Scheib, K. (1996). Beta-Endorphin and adrenocorticotrophin after incremental exercise and marathon running – female responses. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology 72, 417424.
Henriksson, M.M., Aro, H.M., Marttunen, M.J., Heikkinen, M.E., Isometsä, E.T., Kuoppasalmi, K.I. & Lönnqvist, J.K. (1993). Mental disorders and comorbidity in suicide. American Journal of Psychiatry 150, 935940.
Knubben, K., Reischies, F.M., Adli, M., Schlattmann, P., Bauer, M. & Dimeo, F. (2007). A randomised, controlled study on the effects of a short-term endurance training programme in patients with major depression. British Journal of Sports Medicine 41, 2933.
Kritz-Silverstein, D., Barrett-Connor, E. & Corbeau, C. (2001). Cross-sectional and prospective study of exercise and depressed mood in the elderly: the Rancho Bernardo study. American Journal of Epidemiology 153, 596603.
Lawlor, D.A. & Hopker, S.W. (2001). The effectiveness of exercise as an intervention in the management of depression: systematic review and meta-regression analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Medical Journal 322, 763767.
Manger, T.A. & Motta, R.W. (2005). The impact of an exercise program on posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. International Journal of Emergency Mental Health 7, 4957.
Mensink, G. (2003). Bundes-Gesundheitssurvey: Körperliche Aktivität. Aktive Freizeitgestaltung in Deutschland. Beiträge zur Gesundheitsberichterstattung des Bundes [Federal Health Survey: Physical activity. Active leisure activities in Germany. Contributions to health reporting of the Federal Government]. Robert Koch-Institut: Berlin.
Morgan, W.P. (1985). Affective beneficence of vigorous physical activity. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 17, 94100.
Morgan, W.P. (1997). Physical Activity and Mental Health. Taylor and Francis: Washington (DC).
Nattiv, A. & Puffer, J.C. (1991). Lifestyles and health risks of collegiate athletes. Journal of Family Practice 33, 585590.
Nicoloff, G. & Schwenk, T.S. (1995). Using exercise to ward off depression. Physician and Sports Medicine 23, 4458.
Paffenbarger, R.S. Jr, Lee, I.M. & Leung, R. (1994). Physical activity and personal characteristics associated with depression and suicide in American college men. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, Suppl 377, 1622.
Pate, R.R., Trost, S.G., Levin, S. & Dowda, M. (2000). Sports participation and health-related behaviors among US youth. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 154, 904911.
Phillips, M.R., Yang, G., Zhang, Y., Wang, L., Ji, H. & Zhou, M. (2002). Risk factors for suicide in China: a national case-control psychological autopsy study. Lancet 360, 17281736.
Rahkila, P., Hakala, E., Salminen, K. & Laatikainen, T. (1987). Response of plasma endorphins to running exercises in male and female endurance athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 19, 451455.
Rahkila, P., Hakala, E., Alén, M., Salminen, K. & Laatikainen, T. (1988). Beta-endorphin and corticotropin release is dependent on a threshold intensity of running exercise in male endurance athletes. Life Sciences 43, 551558.
Ransford, C.P. (1982). A role for amines in the antidepressant effect of exercise: a review. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 4, 110.
Sabo, D., Miller, K.E., Melnick, M.J., Farrell, M.P. & Barnes, G.M. (2005). High school athletic participation and adolescent suicide: A Nationwide US Study. International Review for the Sociology of Sport 40, 523.
Schneider, B., Maurer, K., Sargk, D., Heiskel, H., Weber, B., Frölich, L., Georgi, K., Fritze, J. & Seidler, A. (2004). Concordance of DSM-IV Axis I and II diagnoses by personal and informant's interview. Psychiatry Research 127, 121136.
Schneider, B., Wetterling, T., Georgi, K., Bartusch, B., Schnabel, A. & Blettner, M. (2009). Smoking differently modifies suicide risk of affective disorders, substance use disorders, and social factors. Journal of Affective Disorders 112, 165173.
Simon, T.R., Powell, K.E. & Swann, A.C. (2004). Involvement in physical activity and risk for nearly lethal suicide attempts. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 27, 310315.
Slaven, L. & Lee, C. (1997). Mood and symptom reporting among mid-dleaged women: the relationship between menopausal status, hormone replacement therapy, and exercise participation. Health Psychology 16, 203238.
Taliaferro, L.A., Rienzo, B.A., Miller, M.D., Pigg, R.M. Jr & Dodd, V.J. (2008). High school youth and suicide risk: exploring protection afforded through physical activity and sport participation. Journal of School Health 78, 545553.
Tao, F.B., Xu, M.L., Kim, S.D., Sun, Y., Su, P.Y. & Huang, K. (2007). Physical activity might not be the protective factor for health risk behaviours and psychopathological symptoms in adolescents. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 43, 762767.
Unger, J.B. (1997). Physical activity, participation in team sports, and risk of suicidal behaviour in adolescents. American Journal of Health Promotion 12, 9093.
Wilmore, J.H. & Costill, D.L. (1994). Physiology of Sports and Exercise, 1. ed. Human Kinetics: Champaign (IL).



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed