A Longitudinal Investigation of the Mental Health Benefits of Physical Activity Among Graduate Students

dc.contributor.authorGlasgow, Trevin Earlen
dc.contributor.committeechairGeller, E. Scotten
dc.contributor.committeememberCalderwood, Charlesen
dc.contributor.committeememberFoti, Roseanne J.en
dc.contributor.committeememberHarden, Samantha M.en
dc.contributor.departmentPsychologyen
dc.date.accessioned2020-03-21T08:00:48Zen
dc.date.available2020-03-21T08:00:48Zen
dc.date.issued2020-03-20en
dc.description.abstractRecent evidence showing graduate students to be at an elevated risk of developing mental health problems has attracted the attention of both researchers and non-researchers (Evans, Bira, Gastelum, Weiss, and Vanderford, 2018; Flatherty, 2018). This increased risk could be attributed to the stressors graduate students routinely experience. However, few studies have examined the negative effects of work stressors among graduate students and ways to protect graduate students from the negative impact of stressors. This research explored the association between work stressors and the mental health of graduate students, while considering the potential protective role of physical activity. Also studied was the potential predictors of physical activity, such as social support for physical activity. Graduate students completed three surveys over a semester. Multilevel structural equation modeling was used to analyze within- and between-person variation. Increased levels of work stressors were associated with increased levels of mental health problems. Physical activity was not associated with improved mental health at both levels of analysis. However, higher levels of physical activity protected graduate students from the negative effects of role conflict and role ambiguity, but not work overload. Social support for physical activity and a mindset that stress is enhancing were both associated with increased physical activity. This is one of the first studies to not only consider the negative effects of work stressors on graduate students' mental health, but also the protective benefits of physical activity.en
dc.description.abstractgeneralGraduate school is a stressful time for many individuals. Graduate students are expected to do well in their classes while juggling other responsibilities, such as teaching, conducting research and/or working full-time to pay for school and living expenses. Although not everyone would consider graduate students to be full-time employees, it is not uncommon for graduate students to have long workdays and weekends that include completing work. Even if a graduate student does not clock into work every day, most are probably working more than the typical hourly employee. Not surprisingly, research has shown that graduate students are at increased risk of developing mental health problems when compared to the general population (Evans, Bira, Gastelum, Weiss, and Vanderford, 2018). These findings have even caught the attention of the national media, with some calling the mental health problem a crisis (Flatherty, 2018). Work stressors (i.e., parts of a person's job that lead to feelings of distress) may influence graduate students' mental health. However, few studies have examined the negative effects of work stressors among graduate students and factors that could protect graduate students from these negative effects. This study assessed the benefits of physical activity among graduate students, given the plethora of studies showing the positive benefits of physical activity. It is possible physical activity can reduce the negative effects of the work stressors experienced by graduate students, such as being overworked with teaching responsibilities or having to conduct multiple research studies at the same time. This study explored factors that might influence graduate students to be more physically active, such as social support for physical activity. Graduate students completed three surveys over a semester. Increased levels of work stressors were associated with increased levels of mental health problems. Graduate students who exercised more were "protected" from the negative effects of work stressors. In other words, even if graduate students were exposed to high levels of work stressors, they did not experience elevated mental health problems if they regularly exercised. Additionally, being around friends who promoted physical activity and having a mindset that stress is not bad but rather enhancing helped graduate students engage in more physical activity. Overall, the findings indicated that graduate students experience increased mental health problems due to negative work stressors, but by exercising they could reduce the negative effect of these work stressors.en
dc.description.degreeDoctor of Philosophyen
dc.format.mediumETDen
dc.identifier.othervt_gsexam:24485en
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/10919/97399en
dc.publisherVirginia Techen
dc.rightsIn Copyrighten
dc.rights.urihttp://rightsstatements.org/vocab/InC/1.0/en
dc.subjectwork stressorsen
dc.subjectphysical activityen
dc.subjectmental healthen
dc.titleA Longitudinal Investigation of the Mental Health Benefits of Physical Activity Among Graduate Studentsen
dc.typeDissertationen
thesis.degree.disciplinePsychologyen
thesis.degree.grantorVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State Universityen
thesis.degree.leveldoctoralen
thesis.degree.nameDoctor of Philosophyen
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