Changes in university students' mental health following a six-week physical activity intervention


The rise in mental health concerns among university students has led to an increased demand for counseling services across post-secondary institutions. Consequently, additional resources are needed to improve the mental health of university students. The purpose of the present study was to test the effects of a six-week physical activity (PA) intervention on university students' mental health. Participants included 49 (32 female, 16 male, 1 gender-variant, Mage= 23.08, SD= 4.96) low-risk sedentary students enrolled at a Canadian university. Participants varied in year of study (first year to graduate studies) and educational program (e.g., Engineering, Law, Science). The intervention comprised two personal training sessions (45 minutes each), including cardiovascular and resistance exercises, and one individual PA counseling session (30 minutes) per week. A pretest-posttest design was implemented wherein the following mental health outcomes were measured: a) psychological distress, b) psychological well-being, and c) quality of life. Paired samples t-test revealed a significant decrease in psychological distress from pre (M= 77.31, SD= 17.03) to post (M= 67.22, SD= 17.97) intervention (p= .000). There was also a significant increase in psychological well-being from pre (M= 45.84, SD= 10.87) to post (M= 50.53, SD= 13.56) intervention (p= .009). Similar results were found for quality of life from pre (M= 29.61, SD= 7.17) to post (M= 36.18, SD= 7.17) intervention (p= .000). The results highlight PA as an effective method to improve university students' mental health, which may reduce their need for counseling services. Recommendations for future development of PA interventions with this sample will be provided.

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