Assessing physical activity, mental health, and stress among international students at a large Canadian university


Context: Physical activity plays a vital role in maintaining the health and well-being of students on campus. International students form part of the student community, but little research has explored their mental and physical activity needs. Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the current levels of physical activity, stress and mental health of international students and compare the scores and levels with those of domestic students (DS). Participants and Method Summary: Secondary data from domestic and international students were analyzed from the Spring 2016-National College Health Assessment II (N = 4640) at a large Canadian University. From the international students (N=605), 36% were male and 84% were female. Results: 21.1% of the international students met the moderate-vigorous physical activity guidelines (DS, 23.9%), 9.2% of international students had participated in intramurals sports (DS, 12.5%) and 4.8% participated in varsity sports in the last 12 months (DS, 3.1%). 28.1% of the international students felt so depressed it was difficult to function (DS, 25.2%) and 35.4% felt so anxious that it was difficult to function in the last 30 days (DS, 40.3%). 35.3% of the international student population felt more than average stress (DS, 47.6%) and 11.9% felt tremendous stress in the last 12 months (DS, 15.3%). Conclusions: When compared to their Canadian peers, international students have similarly low levels of physical activity as well as high stress and mental health levels. This study highlights a need to study international students needs and resources in Canadian universities.