Numerous researchers report an association between physical activity and mental health, yet studies examining the role of physical activity in reducing acute mental health concerns are lacking.
The Faculty of Human Kinetics and the Student Counselling Centre have teamed up to conduct such a study that not only fills this gap, but provides support to the University of Windsor students at the same time.
UWorkItOut UWin is a prescribed physical activity program for student participants who have been referred to the program by the counselling centre. Each participant is partnered with a student trainer who will guide the trainee through a semi-weekly exercise routine.
The dyad begins in a private exercise area to build familiarity and comfort in working out. As comfort level and self-efficacy increase in the participant, the dyad moves to a full exercise routine in the Forge Fitness Centre.
Each week, the participant also has a “learning session” where they learn about positive self-talk, goal setting, time management, and other coping techniques. Following the six-week intervention, participants can choose to transition to a “buddy system” which pairs them with a participant who has successfully completed the UWorkItOut UWin program in order to sustain ongoing unsupervised physical activity.
Professor Krista Chandler, principal investigator for the project, says it has two main goals for the UWindsor student body: improved mental health and increased levels of physical activity.
“Research suggests that physical activity has many positive outcomes to mental health,” Dr. Chandler says. “This program hopes to recognize a reduction in mental health concerns, an enhancement of social interaction and a connectedness to the trainer, other students, and the student body.”
She notes the program is already showing great results.
“Seventy per cent of the participants from the fall have transitioned to the buddy system and are continuing to exercise with their partner,” says Chandler.
After a successful pilot in the fall semester, she connected with Ryan Flannagan, associate vice- president, student experience, to extend the reach of the program. With his assistance, the program has grown to 17 participants being instructed by 15 student trainers.
Flannagan says what he likes about the program is that it promotes systemic rather than reactive change.
“With the increased numbers of mental health issues we are seeing on campuses all over Canada, it is vital to be progressive in mental health initiatives,” he says. “UWorkItOut UWin is a program that fits with our overall mental wellness strategy to benefit our UWindsor students.”