Improving the mental health and physical fitness of university students is the focus of a new mentor-based exercise program at The University of Western Australia – believed to be the first of its kind at an Australian university.
Stride is a free 12-week supervised and personalised exercise program for UWA students experiencing mental health difficulties, which also provides an opportunity for Master of Clinical Exercise Physiology students to gain valuable mentorship experience.
“The goal of Stride is to help students feel physically and mentally healthier by introducing an individualised exercise program."Associate Professor Ben Jackson
Program co-lead, Associate Professor Ben Jackson, from UWA’s School of Human Sciences said students could be referred to the Stride program from University student support or medical services staff and could enrol in the program while receiving other support.
“The goal of Stride is to help students feel physically and mentally healthier by introducing an individualised exercise program and providing an opportunity to develop long-term exercise habits,” Associate Professor Jackson said.
“The personalised nature of the program allows participants to experience many different exercise activities including the gym, basketball, walking, swimming or anything we can facilitate on campus.”
Stride program co-lead Dr Bonnie Furzer from UWA’s School of Human Sciences said that levels of distress among students, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, reinforced the importance of the program.
“The Stride program takes a unique approach of integrating a number of services across campus, including the Student Guild, medical centre, UWA Sport, Student Life and welfare services to ensure the most positive student outcomes are supported,” Dr Furzer said.
“Not only are students physically active, but they are also experiencing the many positive mental health outcomes that regular exercise provides."Conor Boyd
“The program allows mentors to give back to the university and support students, while also furthering their own clinical training in an area which is growing in community need.”
Stride program coordinator and Accredited Exercise Physiologist Conor Boyd, who manages the program intake, said the team had already noticed the benefits students were receiving.
“Not only are students physically active, but they are also experiencing the many positive mental health outcomes that regular exercise provides while making a new friend and receiving valuable social support,” Mr Boyd said.
Dr Furzer hopes other educational institutions will implement similar strategies.
“Once we are able to fully understand the benefits of Stride, we’d like to see the program implemented in universities across Australia and internationally,” she said.