Physical activity and health

Physical activity and health are about how individual, psychosocial and environmental factors linked to activity can affect people's physical and mental health.

Physical activity related to health

Physical activity and health are about how physical activity relates to and affects various aspects of health or ill health.

Physical activity and health are also about which specific effects of physical activity can explain the relationships between health and ill health in different situations. The goal is to be able to support both individuals' lifestyle changes and the health work of entire organizations.

Central aspects are individual, psychosocial, and environmental factors that are linked to people's activity, as well as the effects of influence on these.


The field of physical activity and health originates in early occupational physiology research combined with medical and epidemiological studies on the health effects of physical movement and exercise.

The first studies were published in Great Britain during the 1950s. Since then, research has grown strongly internationally.

In 1990, the Liv90 study was carried out, epidemiological studies of the adult population's physical activity, physical performance, and health. A few years earlier, a similar study had been carried out on schoolchildren, the so-called EUROFIT project. The focus was primarily on physical performance linked to metabolic and cardiovascular health. New data collections later followed Liv90 in 2000 and 2013. The EUROFIT project was followed up by the so-called SIH studies (School, sport, fitness) in 2001 and 2007.

Since 2009, my studies and collaborative projects have studied physical activity linked to mental health. Since 2016, extensive GIH research has been conducted on the connection between physical activity and brain health within collaborative projects with business and non-profit organizations. This field is now organized as the research environment E-PABS, Center of Excellence in Physical Activity, Healthy Brain Functions and Sustainability.


The vast majority of aspects of health have a multifactorial origin/genesis, that is, several underlying factors that influence it. It is essential to study both factors that influence the lifestyle of physical activity (together with the three other lifestyles of diet, alcohol, and tobacco) and factors that influence the possibility and access to exercises, such as socio-economic factors, gender aspects, and individual characteristics.

At GIH, studies in health cover everything from well-being and quality of life to physical and mental illness.

Types of studies

How is health affected by physical activity patterns, that is, how intensively, how often, and how long a person moves or sits still? To understand connections and impacts, different types of studies are needed.

The studies are conducted as basic physiological investigations of the direct effects of movement on body functions (including the brain organ), epidemiological studies, and intervention studies in children, young people, adults, and elderly individuals.

The descriptive studies aim to map how physical activity co-varies with health at one point or over time. But such studies do not provide answers to causal relationships at all. For such knowledge, experimental studies are required instead. Both acute and long-term experimental studies are conducted at GIH. Critical studies must map physiological mechanisms that can explain connections and effects, while long-term ones describe effects on health or performance in general.

A particular form of study is twin studies, where the genetic link between physical activity and health is studied. GIH also carries out extensive work with quality and method development.

Preventive effects

Physical activity and health include primary preventive aspects of physical activity. Those who do not suffer from illness or ill health can avoid suffering from ill health in the future by practicing physical activity. But in someone who is entirely healthy (something relatively uncommon in adulthood), physical activity has minimal impact. You don't get "super healthy" by moving more if you don't have reduced health.

Therefore, it is at least as important to study the secondary preventive effects of physical activity, that is, how individuals with an increased risk of ill health or chronic conditions of ill health can affect their future health through physical activity. This can either be done as part of the treatment of the ongoing illness, or as prevention of other, subsequent illnesses. The secondary preventive effects of physical activity are often significantly more significant for individuals and society.

Collaboration and collaboration partners

Research in the field of physical activity and health has extensive collaboration with a large number of companies, authorities, and research groups.

Among the companies are Abbvie, BioArctic, SAAB, Avonova, Itrim, SATS, IKEA, Skandia Ideas for Life and Risk and Health, HPI, Storytel, Permobil, Intrum, ICA, COOP, Generation PEP, Monark Exercise, Tenant & Partner, Konsumentföreningen Stockholm, Skanska, and NCC.

The authorities include the Swedish Road Administration, the Public Health Agency, the Swedish Armed Forces, and the Swedish Food Agency.

We also collaborate with research groups at the universities of Stockholm, Gothenburg, Umeå, Copenhagen, Zurich, Limerick, Leuven, Melbourne, and Newcastle (Australia), as well as at the Karolinska Institutet.

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  • Örjan Ekblom´s profilbildProfessor, head of subject area in physical activity and healthÖrjan 8-120 53 822
Last modified:12 Feb 2024