A mixed-methods approach to understanding the need for embedded physical activity interventions for mental health within university counselling centres


Despite the wide-reaching benefits of physical activity for mental health, there are a lack of effective physical activity interventions that can be embedded within university counselling centres. In collaboration with Health and Wellness Services at the University of Toronto, the current study aimed to assess the feasibility, acceptability and effectiveness of a six-week intervention for improving acute mental health concerns and physical activity. Participants completed pre- and post-questionnaires to evaluate the effectiveness and feasibility of the program. Interviews with participants and key stakeholders (clinicians and Director of Services) were conducted to gain insight on the feasibility and acceptability of a physical activity referral scheme for mental health. Participants were help-seeking students (Mage = 23 years), who were referred from Health and Wellness Services. Overall, 75% of the recruited sample remained engaged in the program (N = 54). There was a significant increase in total MET-minutes per week of physical activity (Mpre = 893.58 ± 678.35 vs Mpost = 1641.15 ± 984.54; t (53) = 5.33, p < .001). There were also significant improvements in mental health status (Mpre = 110.89 ± 25 vs Mpost = 140.67 ± 31.37; t (53) = 6.43, p < .001). Interviews suggest the program is evaluated favourably and provide comprehensive suggestions for an embedded physical activity referral scheme. The results demonstrate the importance of embedded physical activity interventions for mental health to help reduce the burden on university counselling centres and improve the mental health status of university students.