The UWorkItOut UWin Program: Improving University Students’ Psychological Distress through Physical Activity

Irene L. Muir, MHK, Krista J. Munroe-Chandler, Todd M. Loughead, Chad A. Sutherland, Kieran G. Hawksley


Background: The predominance of mental health concerns among post-secondary students has amplified the demand for campus counselling services. Although exercise is positively linked to mental health, campus interventions that integrate supervised exercise and exercise counselling are limited. Objectives: The purpose of the present study was to examine the impact of the UWorkItOut UWin program on students’ psychological distress. Methods: The UWorkItOut UWin program is a 6-week exercise training and counselling intervention offered to low risk, sedentary students seeking counselling services at a mid-sized Canadian University. The participants included 49 (male, n = 16; female, n = 32; gender invariant, n = 1) university students (71% undergraduate) with a mean age of 23.08 years (SD = 4.97). Students completed one unsupervised (60 minutes) and two supervised (45 mins each) exercise training sessions per week. Students also attended weekly individual exercise counselling sessions (30 minutes each). The Mental Health Inventory-38 (MHI-38) was used to measure changes in the three subscales of psychological distress: 1) anxiety, 2) depression, and 3) loss of emotional control. Results: Paired samples t tests demonstrated significant decreases in anxiety and depression scores from pre-to post-intervention (ps < .05). No significant change was found for loss of emotional control from pre-to post-intervention (p > .05). Conclusion: The findings provide evidence for the effect of exercise in reducing university students’ psychological distress. Consequently, exercise is an additional mental health service for this population, alleviating strain on campus counselling services.


Depression, Mental Health, Psychological Distress, Anxiety, Counselling, Students, Exercise

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