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Article Title

EXERCISE IS MEDICINE ON CAMPUS- ASSOCIATIONS OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, MENTAL HEALTH OUTCOMES, AND ACADEMIC SUCCESS

Abstract

Bryce T. Daniels, Kaitlyn M. Gallagher, & Erin K. Howie

University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Student health statuses are potential predictors of academic success at universities. Physical activity, a critical health behavior, is a recognized influencer of mental health status. Evaluating physical activity, mental health outcomes, and academic performance can provide further insight into physical activity’s effect on academic success. PURPOSE: To assess associations between physical activity with depressive, anxiety, and stress symptoms, and happiness, and GPAs. METHODS: From October 2019 through May 2020 using a cross-sectional study design, 791 undergrads (37% female) completed both the International Physical Activity Questionnaire Long Form to assess physical activity and the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scales-21 to assess the mental health outcomes. Campus administrators provided fall 2019 GPAs. A series of simple linear regression (α = .05) adjusted for sex was used to evaluate the degree to which physical activity was associated with depressive, anxiety, and stress symptoms, happiness, and GPA. RESULTS: 20% of students reported no leisure time physical activity. 36% of students reported at least mild depressive symptoms, 36% of students reported at least mild anxiety symptoms, 27% of students reported at least mild stress symptoms, 15% of students reported being happy rarely or none of the time. Leisure and vigorous physical activity were associated with a better happiness score (β = .003, p =.003; β = .002, p = .016). Vigorous physical activity (MET-hr per week) was associated with fewer depressive (β = -.03, p = .016) and anxiety symptoms (β = -.02, p = .023). Vigorous physical activity was not associated with GPA (β = .001, p = .310) nor was leisure physical activity (β = .001, p = .368). However, reporting fewer depressive symptoms was associated with a higher overall GPA (β = -0.01, p <.001). CONCLUSION: Leisure and vigorous physical activity were associated with better mental health outcomes but were not directly linked to GPA. However, fewer depressive symptoms was associated with higher GPAs. College campuses should continue to promote leisure and vigorous physical activity to combat poor mental health outcomes and to potentially enhance academic success. Though, future studies should use an objective measure of physical activity to further evaluate these associations.

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