|Evidence shows that regular physical activity improves physiological and psychological health (Department of & Human Services, 2000). Research in college students supports a relationship between heightened levels of stress and behavior patterns that may compromise health (Bowen & Marlatt, 2009). Stress is a major issue for college students as they cope with a variety of academic, social, and personal challenges (Towbes & Cohen, 1996). An important developmental task for college students is learning to manage excess or unnecessary distress while actively engaging with healthy, age-appropriate challenges that promote growth (Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005). Previous research on college students supports the effectiveness of the mindfulness based stress reduction program (MBSR) on reduction stress (Deckro, 2002).
Despite the many clear physical and mental health benefits of an active lifestyle many college students are not actively engaged in physical activity levels of moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week or vigorous exercise for 20 minutes, 3 days a week for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal fitness (Garber et al., 2011). Given these benefits, one would expect participation in physical activity to be the norm. However, evidence indicates that the level of physical activity declines from high school to college, and activity patterns in college populations are generally insufficient to improve health and fitness (Douglas et al., 1997). To be specific 43% of the 2005 National College Health Assessment respondents reported that they did not engage in moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes or vigorous exercise for 20 minutes in the preceding 7 days (American College Health Association, 2006).
The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of a university Physical Health Education (PHED) mindfulness based exercise course on perceived stress, mindfulness, and physical activity levels on college students. It was hypothesized that (a) students who received the mindfulness based stress reduction instruction as a part of the cardiorespiratory walking for fitness instruction would show an increase in physical activity levels above the control group receiving only the cardiorespiratory walking for fitness instruction; (b) students who received the mindfulness based stress reduction instruction as a part of the cardiorespiratory walking for fitness instruction would show a decrease of perceived stress above the control group receiving only the cardiorespiratory walking for fitness instruction;, (c) students who received the mindfulness based stress reduction instruction as a part of the cardiorespiratory walking for fitness instruction would show an increase in mindfulness above the control group receiving only the cardiorespiratory walking for fitness instruction;, and (d) there would be a difference between the MBSR intervention and control group over time (pre, 4 week, 8week, and post) for physical activity, mindfulness, and perceived stress.
A total of 50 college students participated in the study, 41 students completed the course, while 34 participants data were used in the statistical analysis. After having attained letters of informed consent the researcher measured the weight, height and stride length of all participants. An Omron HJ-720 ITC pedometer was distributed to each participant and asked to wear it for one week (five week days and two weekend days) during waking hours to assess physical activity at four data collection points. At the end of the each data collection week the researcher collected the pedometers from the participants.
Three 2 (Group) x 4 (Time) ANOVAs were conducted to determine the effects of group on physical activity (pedometer step counts), mindfulness, and perceived stress. Results did not reveal a statistically significant main effect for groups on physical activity, mindfulness, and perceived stress. The ANOVA analysis did however reveal a significant within subjects effect, (F (df = 3,96) = 3.62, p > .05, η2 = .10).
In conclusion the assessment of the effectiveness of a 15 week curriculum based physical activity intervention on increasing physical activity levels, mindfulness, and reducing perceived stress of college students revealed no differences between the control and intervention group. The mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) program has demonstrated increases in mindfulness and stress-reduction effects among college students, this study implemented an adaptation of the MBSR program for inclusion into a PHED semester course. Future research should explore additional PHED programmatic designs that will include components of group dialogue and discussions aimed at enhancing awareness in everyday life and tailored instruction emphasizing exercise health behavior values.