The Impact of COVID-19 Health and Safety Measures on the Self-Reported Exercise Behaviors and Mental Health of College Students

Justin A. DeBlauw, Mary Stenson, Astrid Mel, Daniela German, Aaron Jaggernauth, Brian Lora, Noa Schabes, Raymani Walker, Farouq Yusuf, Stephen J. Ives

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The public-health restrictions (e.g., remote learning, restricted access to facilities and dining halls) put in place by colleges to reduce the spread of COVID-19 resulted in forced isolation and modifications to health-related behaviors. The restrictions and uncertainty associated with COVID-19 may have exacerbated the challenges of meeting exercise recommendations and mental-health concerns. The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of restrictions on students’ exercise habits and their levels of anxiety, stress, and depression. Five-hundred and forty students completed a 29-question survey on individual demographics, living arrangements, exercise, sleep, diet, and mental health. Significant changes in weekly days of exercise and intensity were reported. Increases in anxiety, stress, and depression were reported. The two most frequently reported changes in exercise behavior were an increase in minutes of aerobic training (5%) and a combination of reduced minutes of aerobic and resistance training (3.9%), which could be reflective of an individual’s ability and/or desire to maintain exercise behavior during the restrictions. Alternatively, for those students who reduced their exercise habits, aerobic training (11%) was the mode that suffered the most. Demographic factors such as ethnicity, regional residence, and gender were found to have significant effects on stress, anxiety, and depression. Amidst pandemics and future health emergencies, colleges should prioritize establishing opportunities for students to exercise, helping them meet physical activity recommendations and combat mental-health issues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number7163
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.


  • college
  • mental health
  • physical activity

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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