Embedding physical activity into the educational experience to boost student mental health and wellbeing: Getting moving at University.
A sense of crisis has developed around the mental health (MH) of university students. The burden on current reactive, individual support services may be alleviated by shifting focus from individuals to institutions and embedding prevention-based initiatives into the education system. Recent reviews demonstrate that physical activity (PA) improves wellbeing and quality of life in adolescence and reduces distress and depression in students. Crucially, PA not only benefits those who are struggling but can also prevent mental ill-health. Despite this, rates of PA decline throughout adolescence. The decline may arise because adolescents are no longer exposed to school-based PA programmes. This supports PA not only via PE and sports, but also through three forms of classroom-based PA: physically active learning, curriculum-based activity breaks, and non-curriculum breaks. Despite calls to integrate PA into the curriculum, there is little evidence of any systematic approach to PA promotion in UK universities. The need to embed PA into the university education experience has grown more acute since the COVID-19 pandemic, as universities have embraced blended delivery (i.e., part online, part in-person), which likely incurs even lower levels of instrumental PA. An effective, embedded PA programme must consider the demands and practices of the post-pandemic university and be co-designed with stakeholders. This project will develop an approach to embed PA in the university educational experience to increase PA and enhance mental health. We will follow a systematic intervention development approach. First, we will develop a systems map to identify how student PA is facilitated or hindered within university education. Second, we will identify key sites at which PA might be embedded, and co-design intervention strategies. Finally, we will assess the feasibility and acceptability of an intervention embedding PA into this system.
Dr Eleanor Dommett