The effectiveness of physical activity interventions in improving higher education students' mental health: A systematic review

Author: Samantha Donnelly1, Kay Penny2, Mary Kynn3
1 The University of the West of Scotland, Division of Sport, Exercise and Health, Stephenson Place, Hamilton International Technology Park, South Lanarkshire G72 0LH, UK.
2 University of Aberdeen, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD, UK.
3 Curtin University, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Wark Avenue, Bentley, WA 6102, Australia.
Conference/Journal: Health Promot Int
Date published: 2024 Apr 1
Other: Volume ID: 39 , Issue ID: 2 , Pages: daae027 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1093/heapro/daae027. , Word Count: 218

Traditional interventions aiming to improve students' mental health and quality of life include meditation or canine therapy. The development of physical activity-related interventions has increased over the past decade. We aimed to review all studies using physical activity for improving the mental health and quality of life in higher education students whilst describing the interventions, measurements and effectiveness. A systematic search of six electronic databases including: ProQuest, MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, SPORTDiscus and CENTRAL, was conducted following PRISMA guidelines. Randomized or non-randomized controlled trial physical activity-related interventions involving higher education students aiming to improve their mental health and quality of life were included. Searches yielded 58 articles with interventions involving martial arts, sport, mind-body exercises and anaerobic exercises. Psychological measures varied across studies including the State Trait Anxiety Inventory, Beck Depression Inventory and the Perceived Stress Scale. Over half of the studies included in this review (n = 36) were effective in improving students' mental health or quality of life. Findings from our review suggest that interventions aiming to be effective in improving students' mental health quality of life should aim to deliver moderate-vigorous intensity exercises such as dance or Pilates. This systematic review was based on a published protocol in PROSPERO (registration number: CRD42022325975).

Keywords: college students; exercise; interventions; mental health; physical activity; university students.

PMID: 38563387 PMCID: PMC10985680 DOI: 10.1093/heapro/daae027