Physical activity "key to student mental health" – study
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Physical activity "key to student mental health" – study

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Getting university students physically active can have a dramatic effect on improving their mental wellbeing, social inclusion, and perceived academic attainment and employability.

According to the British Active Students Survey: 2017/2018 Report, students who are classified as "active" scored better than those classified as fairly active or inactive across four aspects of personal wellbeing: life satisfaction, feelings of worthwhile, happiness and anxiety.

The survey – published at the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Conference this week – also showed that students who participate in both sport and gym activities reap the greatest benefits.

The survey is the biggest of its kind to date, with 6,891 students from 104 Higher Education Institutes across the UK responding. It was conducted in partnership by ukactive, BUCS, fitness equipment provider Precor and Scottish Student Sport (SSS).

It shows that little more than half of respondents (53 per cent) were meeting the recommended levels of physical activity (150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity a week), with 7.1 per cent classified as inactive (fewer than 30 minutes a week).

Around one in five students were members of a sports team but not a gym (21 per cent), 18 per cent were members of a gym but not a sports team and more than half of respondents (53 per cent) were members of both.

Being active also helps students make social connections. More than 47 per cent of active students said they never or rarely felt feelings of social isolation. Analysis showed that compared to the inactive group, the odds were lower for them feeling left out.

Active students also perceived higher levels of attainment than fairly active or inactive students, as well as reporting more time spent studying or in class.

The report follows recent figures from the Office of National Statistics, which suggest 95 students took their own lives in England and Wales in the 12 months to July last year, leading the government to introduce an awards system to recognise universities achieving excellence in mental health care.

The authors of the British Active Students Survey have used the findings to call for universities to create more opportunities for physical activity and raise awareness of the wide range of benefits it brings.

“For many students the benefits of being active are multiplied as activity to manage the stress of coursework deadlines and regular examination diets," said Sir Ian Diamond, chair of BUCS.

“Yet not every student is active, and among the inactive are many who would like to take more exercise. Some face competing challenges from needing to undertake paid work to make university economically sustainable. Others are metaphorically tripped up by the disruption of moving away from home or by the competing pressures of academic study.

“As universities move ever faster to put the student experience at the heart of everything they do, it behoves them to take an evidence-led approach to ensuring that everything is done to maximise the proportion of students who are active.

“This report provides a picture of the landscape of student activity and the evidence on which to base policy so as to maximise the physical and mental wellbeing benefits of activity amongst all our students.”

To download and read the full British Active Students Survey: 2017/2018 Report, click here.

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Getting university students physically active can have a dramatic effect on improving their mental wellbeing, social inclusion, and perceived academic attainment and employability.

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