University students' experiences in a physical activity intervention for mental and physical health


To facilitate future development and growth of physical activity interventions, qualitatively exploring participants' experiences in such interventions is warranted (Zakrajsek & Blanton, 2017). Therefore, interviews were conducted to explore students' experiences with respect to a 6-week physical activity program (UWorkitOut UWin) aimed at improving university students' mental and physical health. Participants included 27 low-risk sedentary university students (6 males, 21 females) referred by the university's counselling center. Individual open-ended interviews explored: 1) critical aspects of the program (e.g., personal training and exercise counseling), 2) likes and dislikes about the program, and 3) proposed changes to the program. The participants reported a variety of program outcomes including reduced anxiety, enhanced coping strategies, increased confidence and greater exercise knowledge. In addition, participants reported several benefits of the program (e.g., accountability, mentorship, free of charge) and would recommend the program to a friend seeking student counseling services. Furthermore, several suggestions were provided regarding aspects of the program that could be enhanced (e.g., lengthening the duration of the program, incorporating a nutrition component). Overall, the findings indicate that the intervention was valuable in providing students with the resources necessary to continue exercising. Furthermore, the intervention provided coping strategies to manage stress and anxiety during times of adversity (e.g., midterms and final exams). Recommendations for future research and strategies to promote physical activity with this low-risk population are provided.

Acknowledgments: We would like to thank the University of Windsor Student Experience for funding this project.