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The Mental Benefits of Frequent Exercise

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Walden University

Dr. Joshua Garrin’s enthusiasm and excitement for health education is evident. As a longtime fitness professional, he was accustomed to inspiring his clients to exercise and make lifestyle choices that would dramatically improve their overall well-being, but he felt that something was missing. For 20 years, Dr. Garrin worked in the behavioral health domain, earning his master’s degree in cognitive and counseling psychology and serving as a trainer and coach. But after some soul searching and honing in on his deep-rooted desire to change people’s attitudes and values when it comes to personal health, Dr. Garrin embarked on a new journey—to earn his PhD in Psychology with a specialization in Health from Walden University.

Through his studies, he sought a dissertation topic that would make a difference in the lives of a group he always felt a connection to: young adults. He began thinking about the transition college seniors face when graduating and entering the “real world,” and decided to investigate the complex intersection between health competencies, outcome expectancies, and stress perception. Using his health and wellness background, and established psychology theories and methodology, he began work on his dissertation, Inspiring Change: Exercise Self-Efficacy, Dispositional Optimism, and Perceived Stress in College Seniors.

Dr. Garrin’s research focused on exercise behavior among young adults in their final year of college—a group that national data shows is failing to meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity. Using a sample of 138 senior-level college students, he employed sophisticated statistical tests to learn how the students’ current physical activity affected their outcome expectancies and stress perception as they approached graduation. He also looked at the strength and direction of the correlations between self-efficacy, dispositional optimism, and perceived stress.

College seniors face many stressors, including career uncertainty, financial burden, and identity confusion, but according to Dr. Garrin, people who maintained their exercise habits reported the highest self-efficacy and dispositional optimism scores. They also reported the lowest perceived stress scores, suggesting that by maintaining routine engagement in pro-health behavior, students’ perceived stress and overall mental satisfaction improves.

Dr. Garrin’s research, which won the Harold L. Hodgkinson Award for dissertation excellence in 2015, shows that the biological, psychological, and social elements of health and well-being are synergistic and inextricably linked, with implications that reach far beyond college campuses. “My research results can be applied not just to college seniors, but to anyone venturing into unchartered territory—whether they’re 21 or 61,” he says.

He hopes colleges and universities look at the positive effects of instilling pro-health behaviors in students in the early stages of the college transition and consider implementing programs that adopt a biopsychosocial view of health. More importantly, he hopes that people both on and off college campuses will not only look at how they can become more active—but how following a fitness plan can help to strengthen the bond between the body and the mind.

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Walden University

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