Exercise and Mental Health (2017-2018)

Exercise is associated with a variety of mental health benefits including reduced stress reactivity; depressive, anxious and ADHD symptoms; and improvements in body image, self-esteem and academic performance. However, exercise is not beneficial to everyone at all times. Some individuals exercise to a compulsive degree, experiencing a driven need to exercise beyond mental or physical wellness.

This team explored the relationship between exercise and various mental health issues that impact children, adolescents and young adults, including body image, mood, stress reactivity, cognitive function and learning. Team members also studied potential moderators and types of exercise programs that enhance the impact of exercise on positive mental health and identified practical ways to disseminate findings to a variety of stakeholders.

Building on research begun by the 2016-2017 project team, the 2017-2018 team examined the impact of exercise on stress reactivity investigate how improvements foster student resilience. Team members compared a strength training group, an aerobic training group and a control group to determine whether exercise dampens stress reactivity and whether the type of exercise moderates the effect. Outcomes measured for stress reactivity included biological tests (e.g., blood pressure, cortisol) and psychosocial instruments.

The team also beta tested the Activity Finder tool developed by the 2016-2017 team. This tool was disseminated via workshops with pediatric residents in the community rotation.


Summer 2017 – Spring 2018

Team Outcomes

Exercise and Mental Health (talk by Madison Heath and Madeline Wilkerson), EHDx, April 19, 2018

Impact of Type of Exercise on Mental Wellness (poster by Madison Heath and Madeline Wilkerson), presented at Bass Connections Showcase, April 18, 2018, and EHDx, April 19, 2018

Project team website

This project team was originally part of the Education & Human Development theme of Bass Connections, which ended in 2022. See related teams, Exercise and Mental Health (2018-2019) and Exercise and Mental Health (2016-2017)

Bass Connections team member

Team Leaders

  • Kimberly McNally, Health, Wellness and Physical Education
  • Nancy Zucker, School of Medicine-Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Vidal Arditi, Psychology (AB)
  • Ana-Clara Caldwell, Psychology (AB), Spanish (AB2)
  • Madison Heath, Psychology (BS)
  • Madeline Wilkerson, Psychology (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Debra Best, School of Medicine-Pediatrics
  • Leigh Garstecki, Duke Recreational & Physical Education