Mindfulness, Movement and Mood: Combining Mindfulness and Physical Activity to Prevent Mood Disorders in Young Adults

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Psychology


Prevention and early treatment of mood disorders (such as anxiety and depression) are one of World Health Organization's top priorities (WHO, 2013). They are crucial in protecting against the long-term effects of mood disorders to young people's quality of life (WHO, 2012). Research suggests that physical activity can help the symptoms of mood disorders, and is as effective as psychological treatments (such as cognitive behavioural therapy) and pharmacological treatments (such as antidepressant medicines; Hearing et al., 2016; Wegner et al., 2014).

However, people often struggle to engage with physical activity for long periods of time - and this is even harder for people with mood disorders. One promising way to help this is by practising mindfulness. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that focuses on 'paying attention, on purpose, right now' (Creswell, 2017).

A previous study showed that people who conducted mindfulness practice were more engaged with a physical activity programme for weight loss (Schneider et al., 2019). This could be because mindfulness helps the way people think about physical activity - helping them see the benefits, stay motivated and better tolerate the brief discomfort (Forman et al., 2018). Therefore, my project aims to develop a bespoke intervention that combines mindfulness with physical activity to help prevent mood disorders in young adults.

Specifically, the project aims to:

Understand how psychological interventions affect engagement in physical activity;

Develop and optimise a digital intervention combining mindfulness practice with PA;

Begin evaluating the new intervention in a randomised controlled feasibility trial;

Explore the intervention's effects on intermediary thought processes and behaviour.

Phase I. A knowledge foundation will be built through two separate methodologies. First, I will review research on the effects of psychological therapies in support of physical activity interventions. In parallel, a group of young adults (recruited through collaboration with University's Student Services) will be consulted about their needs and preferences. This foundation will determine the intervention's priorities and guide its design.

Phase II. A new digital intervention will be developed in cooperation with computer science experts at the University of Bath. Its features will correspond to the guidelines developed in Phase I. For example, we may create a mobile application giving personalised physical activity goals, tracking users' activity and providing tailored audio mindfulness practice sessions. Interviews with test users will advise improvements to the intervention.

Phase III. Initial testing of the intervention will explore its feasibility (such as recruitment and engagement rates) and its effects on mood disorder symptoms. Young adults at risk for mood disorders will be recruited through collaborations with B&NES division of Public Health England and University's Student Services. Intervention participants will be given activity monitors and the developed smartphone application and tracked for a period of three months. Data will be collected in real time via smartphones and through in-depth interviews with users.

Altogether, the project promises to develop an effective, user-tailored tool based on rigorous science with the potential to greatly benefit young people's mental health. It lends itself to impactful future work, including comprehensively testing the intervention's effectiveness in a full-scale randomised controlled trial and its dissemination.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2381338 Studentship ES/P000630/1 28/09/2020 27/12/2023 Masa Remskar