A recent study suggests that daily aerobic exercise can be linked to an increase in overall health and well-being. The study was conducted by German researchers and sought to achieve two major objectives: examine the mental health and well-being of university students and examine the effects that short-term aerobic exercise can have on the student’s health. The findings of this study suggested that physical activity is significantly correlated to improving self-reported depression, anxiety, and quality of life. The findings also were representative of the vast amount of mental health issues that plaque today’s youth and the idea that exercise can act as a barrier to the onset of these illnesses.
This study was conducted by Cornelia Herbert, Friedrich Meixner, Christine Wiebking, and Verena Gilg of the Institute of Psychology and Education at Ulm University. The article was published in May 26, 2020 and the study was conducted from 15 August 2019 – 03 March 2020. The article appears in the publication, Frontiers in Psychology.
A recent study showed that about 81% of university counseling directors reported seeing students with serious psychological issues (Growth). Increasing amounts of university students and younger cohorts in general are suffering with depression and anxiety which is resulting in an impending mental health crisis. The psychological loads placed on today’s students is resulting in the manifestation of mental disorders. The need for solutions, such as exercise, are necessary in order to maintain the health and well-being of the future of the country and of the world. Previous studies have commented on the benefits of exercise but this study aims to go deeper into how minimal exercise in universities can be extremely beneficial to students.
The researchers measured mental health and well-being before the study at time, T1, and after the study at time, T2. The sample space of students, who were recruited from universities in Germany, were split into a 6 week (online study) or a 2 week (laboratory study). Mental health and well-being were measured using standardized self-reporting measures of depression, anxiety, quality of life, etc. A total of 185 students were recruited and at T1, 36.6% experienced depressive symptoms and 41.83% experienced high levels of state anxiety. All of the students reported experiencing some kind of stress in their life. After the 6 weeks of the study, the results showed that there was a correlation between low to moderate aerobic exercise and the self-reported well-being of university students. This study compounds on previous studies, such as a health review by Penedo and Dahn, that discuss the undisputed benefits that exercise can have on overall well-being. (Penedo et. al) Most past studies have focused more on the physical benefits of exercise on chronic illnesses like diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. This study primarily focuses on the mental well-being of university students which has not been extensively studied in depth before in the scientific field.
Even though this study targets university students, mental illnesses are spreading over all cohorts so this study could be very relatable to almost any audience. Scientific studies that show aerobic exercise can help the well-being of people could be really beneficial to readers who are suffering from depression or anxiety. This information is important because it is applicable to a large portion of the nation who are struggling with mental health issues. The mental health community needs to look at this study and realize that exercise can be a beneficial option for lowering their depression and anxiety that is very common in today’s culture. The larger implications of this information could be a global improvement in the quality of life and mental well-being if large populations read this study or hear about the findings.
The researchers had a lot of exclusions of who could participate in the study instead of taking a holistic sample with no exclusions. Individuals who play sports, ingest illegal substances, have a history of respiratory diseases, etc. are all barred from participating. While this does eliminate some confounding variables, the researchers admit that the smaller sample size diminishes the ability to generalize their results to a larger population. Some of the participants completed an online exercise program which they argued would be more convenient to follow. This might be a flaw in the study though because online programs can sometimes be harder to follow and less effective than actually going somewhere to exercise. This might cause a limitation in the study because those completing the online program are not receiving the same level of exercise intensity as the other participants. Ethically, the study falls within the bounds of the acceptable ethical standards in psychology. The participants are all ultimately voluntary (gave their written consent before participating) and their anonymity is upheld by the researchers.
Funding for this study came from the Department of Applied Emotion and Motivation Psychology at Ulm University in Germany. The authors of this study have declared that the research was conducted in a manner that was absent of any financial or commercial relationships that could be possibly viewed as a conflict of interest.
The next steps that the researchers would like to see happen is widespread adoption of exercise breaks in universities. This study specifically targets university students who experience tremendous amounts of stress so implementing exercise breaks during over scheduled days can improve the well-being of these students. It is mentioned that the availability of accessible exercise options has increased drastically in recent years but the amount of exercise interventions in universities still remain minimal. The findings produced by this study overwhelming support the need for short- and long-term implementation of exercise interventions throughout the school day.
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