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Mary Stenson


Stress and anxiety are often elevated in college students and were exacerbated by the uncertainty of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Physical activity and mindfulness meditation are small lifestyle changes that can have a large effect on stress and anxiety.

PURPOSE: Identify the effects of daily walking or daily mindfulness meditation on stress, anxiety, and mindfulness in college students during the spring 2021 semester.

METHODS: Sixty-five college students were randomly assigned to three groups: control (N=22), exercise (N=24), or mindfulness (N=19). The control group did nothing in addition to their normal routine, the exercise group walked 15 minutes every day, and the mindfulness group completed a 10-to-12-minute daily mindfulness meditation. Most participants identified as female (84.7%) and as non-Hispanic/white (87.3%), and all ranged from 18 to 22 years old. The Perceived Stress Scale, Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire were completed by participants before and after the six-week intervention. Participants also reported their daily physical activity during the six-week intervention.

RESULTS: Overall, there were significant improvements in stress (t(64)= 3.77; p<.001), anxiety (t(64) =2.75; p<.001), and mindfulness (t(63)=-4.69; p=0.004) from baseline to post-test. The daily walking group experienced a significant increase in mindfulness (t(23)=-3.41; p=.002; d=l 1.0) and a non-significant improvement in stress (t(23)=2.01; p=.056; d=5.38). The daily meditation group experienced a significant improvement in stress (t(18)=3.07; p=.007; d=5.46), anxiety (t(18)=2.86; p=.010; d=12.1), and mindfulness (t(l 7)=-3.62; p=.002; d=12.1). The control group experienced no significant changes in stress (t(21)=1.45; p=.162; d=4.71), anxiety (t(21)=.683; p=.502; d=l2.8), nor mindfulness (t(21)=-1.25; p=.225; d=l 1.3). Although there were some individual group differences over time, there were no significant interactions between time and group for stress (F(2,62)=1.12; p=.334), anxiety (F(2,62)=1.16; p=.319), nor mindfulness (F(2,61)=2.15; p=.125). Physical activity was not significantly different between groups over time (F(7 .13,214 )= .694; p= .680).

CONCLUSION: Daily exercise and mindfulness meditation improved mindfulness and stress in college students while the latter intervention also had a significant impact on anxiety. These short, daily practices have potential to be incorporated into students' lives to enhance quality of life and improve mental health, especially during uncertain and challenging situations.