S. Chriest, E. Dunston, S. Halverson, M. Crusch, B. Johnson, A. Vahk, K. Taylor

Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA

While it has been suggested that increased physical activity (PA) is associated with decreased stress levels, there has been little research investigating the effect of academic load on stress and PA levels in undergraduate-level college students. Considering the high demands and expectations college students face, PA may be a beneficial coping strategy. PURPOSE: To determine the effect of academic load on PA, sedentary behavior, and perceived stress in undergraduate students. METHODS: Undergraduate students (n=6: age 21.7±1.6 years, height 175.2±10.8 cm, weight 97.6±23.5 kg) volunteered from a regional comprehensive university. Sedentary behavior (<100 cpm), light activity (100 – 2020 cpm) and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (>2020 cpm) were measured during 7 days of accelerometer wear one week prior to an exam and one week following the exam. Perceived stress scales were completed following each accelerometer wear and an air displacement plethysmography measurement was completed during the final testing session. Data were analyzed using paired samples t-tests with an alpha level set at 0.05. RESULTS: There was a significant difference (p<0.01) in light PA before (1558.69±476.45 minutes/week) and after (2611.83±671.01minutes/week) the exam. There was no significant differences between stress levels (p=0.25) and moderate to vigorous PA (p=0.20). There was a nonsignificant difference for both moderate PA before (766.94±231.77 minutes/week) and after (647.83±254.71 minutes/week) exam and vigorous PA before (87.14±57.11 minutes/week) and after (42.00±29.66 minutes/week) exam. In addition, sedentary behavior did not significantly change (p=0.67). Study time before the exam (18.54±7.74 hours/week) was significantly different (p=0.04) from study time after the exam (9.17±6.03 hours/week). CONCLUSIONS: While study time was higher before the exam for all participants there were no differences in perceived stress. Further, light PA was lower prior to the exam suggesting that light but not moderate-to-vigorous PA or sedentary behavior changes with increased academic load. Future research should examine these relationships in a larger, heterogeneous sample of undergraduate students as well as understanding other contributing factors, such as sleep health.

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