An Exploratory Study of Physical Activity Patterns of College Students at a Midwest State University in the United States
This study examines physical activity (PA) patterns in the context of global leisure activity of undergraduate students in a large Midwest state university.
A sample of students (n = 253) from a total population of 975 in the school of Physical Education Sport and Exercise Science participated in the study in
the fall of 2010. Student PA was measured using the leisure and physical activity survey (LPA). Descriptive statistics and nonparametric correlation analyses
were used to examine the relationship between five leisure and physical activities and four independent factors. Skewness and kurtosis values ranged from |.022|
to |1.794| and |.311| to |2.374|. All values were within the cut-off value of 2.58 at the .01 level, indicating multivariate normality among the data. The
highest mean value indicated that the majority (76.7%, M = 2.73, SD = 0.52) of the respondents engaged in web surfing 6 to 7 days a week. Video gaming was
the least frequently performed leisure activity (M = 1.43, SD = 0.67). Significant positive correlation (r = .15) was found between the participants’ age
and the frequency of weightlifting, indicating older participants were more likely to engage in weightlifting. Significant positive correlation (r = .18)
was found between the participants’ gender and the frequency of weightlifting, indicating male participants were more likely to engage in weightlifting. Gender
was also positively and significantly correlated with video gaming (r = .39), indicating male participants were more frequently engaging in video gaming.
However, negative significant correlation (r = – .27) was found between gender and the frequency of aerobic exercise, indicating female participants were more
likely to engage in this physical activity. The participants with a higher GPA were less likely to play video games as evidenced by the negative correlation
(r = -.14). In contrast, the participants with higher GPA were more likely to choose aerobic exercise (r = .20). Interestingly, the participants who spent
more time weightlifting engaged in both video gaming and aerobic exercises more frequently than who spent less (in minutes for both activities; r = .17 and
.19, respectively). The data from the study suggest more effective interventions should be implemented to promote PA among university students.
It is hard to imagine life without the wide variety of multimedia devices that have become so commonplace over the last few decades. This technology has become essential in almost every educational, business, community, and recreational environment. Access to electronic information and communication technology is widely available to both high school and college-aged youth students, and mastering elevant information technology is one key to success in adult life. Unfortunately, this new technology phenomenon may be having a negative impact on physical activity patterns in an increasingly sedentary population (27). According to the United States Department of Health and Human Service Healthy People 2010 report, only 22% of adults engage in moderate physical activity for 30 minutes five or more times a week and nearly 25% of the population is completely sedentary (39). In addition, only about 25% of young people (ages 12-21) participate in light to moderate activity nearly every day (36). Lack of physical activity continues to contribute to the high prevalence of overweight individuals and obesity within the United States.
Obesity and lack of physical activity (PA) have been linked to numerous medical complications and cognitive decline (22). Regular participation in PA is important to sustaining good health and has been a topic of thorough investigation since the acknowledgement of the obesity epidemic with the last 30 years (36, 37). PA promotion has been an active mission of health advocacy groups during the last three decades (3, 9, 38) as physical inactivity has become more prevalent in all age groups and is believed to be one of the leading factors contributing to the rise of obesity and associated health problems. As a result, public health groups have increasingly called for actively promoting PA in multiple levels of society including family, school, local community, and state (38). Because of the gravity of the current state of fitness and obesity, participation in PA is of great importance to universities in encouraging healthy and active lifestyles.
Physical inactivity tends to increase during the aging process with the most dramatic increase occurring in late adolescence and early adulthood. Recently, university students have demonstrated the propensity for being physically inactive (17, 21). Research has indicated that about one to two thirds of university students have not engaged in sufficient PA to accrue health benefits (7, 8, 12, 17, 21, 32). Moreover, it seems very difficult to significantly increase PA among university students (17, 18). This contention is supported by the consistent percentage of physically inactive university students (17), in spite of years of issuing calls for promoting PA on campus by the American College Health Association (3) and efforts to increase PA through new facilities and programming. As suggested by Gyurcsik, Bray & Brittain (15) and Keating et al. (17), university students remain a targeted population for more PA interventions.
The examination and identification of trends in PA among younger adults remain under-represented in the literature. In order to effectively promote PA, there is a need to fully understand university student PA patterns because they represent a unique young adult group learning to live independently for the first time in their lives while simultaneously working to attain a baccalaureate degree (5, 18). This is a particularly important inquiry given that prior studies have shown that 60% of college students do not on average accumulate the recommended amount of physical activity for an adult and are unaware that adults should exercise five days a week for 30 minutes at moderate intensities (21) in order to achieve maximum health benefits. In addition, university life includes activities that may potentially encourage unhealthy behaviors. For example, university students typically have a busy schedule with their academic, extracurricular activities, work and social lives, which is a primary contributing factor relating to the decline of PA, and additionally creates great stress for meeting high academic standards, which in turn can create various psychological complications (40). Recent research, however, has demonstrated positive acute and chronic effects of aerobic exercise on cognitive performance (6). Therefore, assessing participation in PA and understanding types of student deficits can play a critical role in helping university students maintain both physical and mental health.
A handful of research on PA patterns of university students has been reported in the literature. Besides the previously noted consistent finding that students did not engage in a sufficient amount of PA (12, 15, 32), Behrens and Dinger (5) reported that university students were more active during weekdays than weekend days and there was no significant difference in PA patterns among the sexes. Furthermore, Keating and colleagues (17) found that university students did not change their PA levels as years in the university increased. Regarding university student PA determinants, similar to what has been reported for K-12 students; age, sex, and ethnicity are also found to be PA determinants for students in higher education (12, 17, 21). In comparison to K-12 students, weekly working hours, having a family, dating, living independently, hectic social schedule, proximity to PA facilities, and academic pressure, have not been investigated thoroughly.
Many young adults on college campuses are not meeting current physical activity recommendations and therefore may not be performing beneficial activities like aerobic exercise and resistance training. While some research exists that investigates PA patterns among university students, many unanswered questions still exist. To date, very few reliable instruments exist to quickly assess the leisure activity and physical activity patterns of young, college-aged adults. The IPAQ (International Physical Activity Questionnaire) is one instrument that has been validated (11) for use with this population, but the long version of the instrument is complicated and arduous to use in a collegiate setting. This may partially explain the paucity of research in this area. For example, it still remains unanswered what types of PA university students engage in and whether changes occur with PA patterns during the duration of enrollment in a university. As suggested by Rhodes and colleagues (28), professionals in the fields of fitness, health education, and physical education have not paid great attention to specific characteristics of student PA such as frequency, intensity, duration, and PA types. This lack of information inventory hinders efforts for promoting PA on college campuses as different types of PA generate different health benefits. This PA data could provide guidance for the development of various meaningful programming interventions to better influence university students regarding PA. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine PA patterns among students at a public university from a Midwestern state.
A survey was conducted in order to assess the leisure and physical activity patterns within a “sport-minded” young adult demographic group. Among those surveyed were college students from one university in the Midwest United States. Surveyed students majored in sport management, exercise science, or sport pedagogy. All subjects were surveyed during a single fall semester. The survey instrument was composed of six demographic elements and five research-related questions, and was modeled upon a previously developed and tested instrument. This current survey was modified from the original instrument to reflect changes to the demographic elements and the addition of scaled questions related to physical activity patterns and computer use. The modified questionnaire demonstrated both criterion reference reliability (maximum aerobic capacity, handgrip dynamometry) and test-rest reliability. The demographic components included: major, age, ethnicity, gender, grade point average, and year in school. Both the survey and the research protocol were reviewed and approved by the appropriate university Institutional Review Board (IRB).
Human subject approval was granted by the university in which the study was conducted before any data were collected. Undergraduate students (n = 253) from nine classes at a Midwest public university participated in the study in the fall semester of 2010. Of the 975 students representing the total population, 253 questionnaires were returned (25.9 % return rate) and represent the subject pool for this study. The majority of the participants were male (67.2%) and juniors (47%) and seniors (47.8%) in college. The mean age was 20.55 (SD = 3.07). The majority of the participants were Caucasian (90%); the other participant ethnicities were as follows: African American (6%), Hispanic American (2%), Asian (1%) and other (1%). A relatively small number of freshman and sophomores
participated in the study. While the response rate is relatively low by traditional standards, a review of institution departmental data suggests the sample is representative of student demographics. Refer to Table 1 for detailed demographic information.
Participants’ Demographic Information
|Variables||Mean (SD)||Frequency (%)|
|Year in college|
The study was conducted at a Midwest university with approximately 20,000 enrolledstudents. Like most medium/large sized state universities in the United States, buses operate around the inner and outer edges of campus and into the community regularly. Courses are scheduled back-to-back with minimal break-time in between, resulting in limited time to engage in PA between classes. One large studentrecreational center and a number of outdoor exercise facilities (i.e., jogging trails, basketball courts, tennis courts, and etc.) are available for students. In addition, the university has an NCAA Division I athletic department, which consists of regionally well-known football, basketball, and volleyball sports teams. Regularly scheduled home games are held on campus on a weekly basis. Physical fitness and wellness activity (PFWL) course credits are included in the general education core requirements, and selected PA courses are available for electives within the university.
Leisure and Physical Activity Survey
The Leisure and Physical Activity survey was designed to be a quick and easy assessment of sedentary and physical activity frequency and duration in college-aged students. This self-reported survey instrument asked for class rank, gender, and grade point average. Grade point average was assessed via five predetermined ranges of answers (0-0.99, 1-1.99, 2-2.99, 3-3.99, 4.0 or above). The sedentary activity types assessed were time spent in typing/schoolwork, web surfing/entertainment, and video gaming. Each classification had further descriptors for clarification: web surfing/entertainment included (television, Facebook, MySpace, etc.), video gaming included (Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation, etc.). These activities were assessed for frequency (0-2 days, 3-5 days, and 6-7days) per week as well as duration per bout (0-15 minutes, 16-30 minutes, greater than 30 minutes). Each frequency and duration was assigned a score of 1 to 3 points for each of the possible responses. Aerobic exercise (running, walking, biking, aerobic dance, etc.) and weightlifting (machine, free weights, cross fit, etc.) were assessed in a similar fashion for frequency and duration.
Total scores for each item assessed were computed as the sum of the frequency and duration scores. This instrument demonstrated low item to total correlations (r < .20), suggesting that items assessed were not overlapping. In pilot testing, the weightlifting total score demonstrated a significant correlation (r > .80, p < .05, n = 58) to the criterion measure hand-grip strength assessed via a hand grip dynamometer (Jamar Hand Dynamometer, Sammons Prestons Bolingbrook, IL). Similar results were found for the aerobic total score and VO2 max (r > .60, p < .05, n = 12) assessed via a graded exercise test utilizing a modern metabolic cart (Parvomedics TrueOne 2400, Parvomedics, Sandy, UT). Both the weightlifting and aerobic total scores were not significantly
different pre to post in a large sample test-retest reliability study (n = 389, p > .05) that examined the stability of the survey after a one month time period.
Descriptive statistics and nonparametric correlation analysis were used to examine the relationship between five leisure and physical activities (i.e., typing/schoolwork on computer, web surfing/entertainment, weightlifting, video gaming, and aerobic exercise) and four independent factors (i.e., age, gender, year in school, and GPA). Violation of assumptions was checked prior to data analyses by examining both skewness and kurtosis values. Data were analyzed via PASW Statistics 18.0.
A total of 253 subjects submitted complete and fully useable surveys, and all subjects indicated that their primary state of residence was Indiana in the United States. Skewness and kurtosis values ranged from |.022| to |1.794| and |.311| to |2.374|. All values were within the cut-off value of 2.58 at the .01 level, indicating multivariate normality among the data. The highest mean value indicated that the majority (76.7%, M = 2.73, SD = .52) of the respondents engaged in web surfing 6 to 7 days a week (television, Facebook, MySpace, etc.). Video gaming was the least frequently performed leisure activity (M = 1.43, SD = .67). The majority (66.8%) of the participants indicated that they engaged in video gaming zero to two days per week.
|Typing/Schoolwork on Computer Frequency||Frequency||1.9486||.61183|
|(machine, free-weight, crossfit, etc.)||Duration||2.4348||.78723|
|Video gaming Frequency||Frequency||1.4325||.67350|
|(Xbox, Xbox360, PlayStation, etc.)||Duration||1.8498||.87807|
|Aerobic exercise Frequency||Frequency||1.8498||.69091|
Correlational analyses revealed several significant findings. Significant positive correlation (r = .15) was found between the participants’ age and the frequency of weightlifting, indicating older participants were more likely to engage in weightlifting. Significant positive correlation (r = .18) was found between the participants’ gender and the frequency of weightlifting, indicating male participants were more likely to engage in weightlifting. Gender was also positively and significantly correlated with video gaming (r = .39), indicating male participants were more frequently engaging in video gaming. However, a negative significant correlation (r = – .27) was found between gender and the frequency of aerobic exercise, indicating female participants were more likely to engage in this physical activity. The participants with a higher GPA were less likely to play video games as evidenced by the negative correlation (r = -.14). In contrast, the participants with higher GPA were more likely to choose to participate in aerobic exercise (r = .20). Interestingly, the participants who spent more minutes on weightlifting engaged in both video gaming and aerobic exercises more frequently than who spent less (in minutes for both activities;
r = .17 and .19, respectively).
|10. VG (F)||-.01||.39**||-.14*||-.06||-.03||.11||.10||.03||.10||1|
|11. VG (D)||.05||.53**||-.12||-.04||.02||.09||.09||.16*||.17**||.67**||1|
|12. AE (F)||.04||-.27**||.20**||.05||.11||.08||.08||.07||-.03||-.13*||-.12||1|
|13. AE (D)||-.05||-.16**||.14*||.02||.13*||.01||.14*||.10||.19**||-.08||-.04||.48**||1|
Note. CP = typing/schoolwork on computer, WS = web surfing/entertainment, WL = weightlifting, VG = video gaming, AE = aerobic exercise. F indicates frequency, and D indicates duration. Correlation is significant at the .05 level (*) and the .01 level (**).
Mean scores (response range 1 to 3) for weightlifting frequency and duration by grade point average are represented in figure 1. The mean response to grade point average and duration of weightlifting demonstrated that the majority of student’s reported GPA’s in the range 1-1.99 had the highest duration (2.75 hours) of weightlifting per week, with the second highest duration (2.50 hours) per week response being 4.00. The mean response to grade point average and frequency of weightlifting demonstrated that the majority of student’s reported grade point averages in the range 3-3.99 had the highest frequency (1.74) days per week of weightlifting, with the second highest frequency per week response being in the GPA range of 1-1.99.
Mean scores (response range 1 to 3) for aerobic exercise frequency and duration by grade point average are represented in figure 2. The mean response to grade point average and duration of aerobic exercise demonstrated that the majority of student’s reported GPA’s in the range 1-1.99 had the highest duration (2.87 hours) of aerobic exercise per week, with the second highest duration (2.50 hours) per week response being 4.00. The mean response to grade point average and frequency of aerobic exercise demonstrated that the majority of student’s reported grade point averages in the range 3-3.99 and 4.00 had the highest frequency (2.00) days per week of aerobic exercise, with the second highest frequency (1.87) days per week response being in the GPA range of 1-1.99.
There is a dearth of scholarly information explaining PA in college students as the trends in physical activity among younger adults remain under-represented in the literature. Given the large number of students enrolled in universities and colleges across the United States, an understanding of the relationship between computer use, PA and academic performance is of great interest. The following results warrant more attention from professionals in the fields of health education, fitness, and physical education. First, the highest mean value indicated that the majority (76.7%) of the respondents engaged in computer world wide web surfing six to seven days a week. While time spent on the Internet can be extremely productive, for some college students’ compulsive Internet use can and may interfere with daily life including grades, work, relationships, and PA. Second, since a large number of participants engaged in PA, higher than in more recent similar studies, it appears that an increasing trend in PA among students may be occurring. Given the number of universities across the country that have or are in the process of building large student recreation centers it is possible the increase in PA among university students is explained by the recent facility “arms race” occurring on many university campuses (41). Third, the data gathered demonstrated that the majority of student’s reported grade point averages in the range 3-3.99 which may indicate a positive correlation between frequency and duration of PA and academic performance. This finding
may be attributed to physiological and psychological factors. Research has demonstrated positive acute and chronic effects of aerobic exercise on cognitive performance (6). Students with higher academic achievement may have more intrinsic motivation to study and work harder which results in higher grades. However, this same intrinsic motivation may be responsible for the higher levels of PA in this population (4). Student’s reported grade point averages in the range 1-1.99 reported the second highest PA frequency per week in resistance and aerobic training. As opposed to the higher GPA students, students with lower academic achievement may exhibit higher rates of PA because they are not as focused on academic work and spend a larger amount of time on non-academic endeavors. Since above average or “middle” GPA students reported the lowest level of PA on the survey instrument, it seems plausible that this population may require additional strategies and resources for PA recruitment and Retention. Fourth, age and gender were also found to be important variables predicting resistance training patterns as older males were more likely to be involved in resistance training and females were more likely to engage in aerobic training. These results could be related to group exercise offerings like aerobic classes that are commonly heavily attended by female students. There may be a societal need for women to perform group activities (21) as women may be less likely than men to work out alone. Regardless of PA type, higher achieving students appear to have higher physical activity levels.
The Benefits of Physical Activity
Today’s college students have more personal choices than ever regarding ways to spend their leisure time, and with limited bandwidth, the choice to participate in physical activity typically requires either intrinsic or physical incentives of some type. So would students engage in more physical activity if they believed it would enhance their academic performance? Evidence supporting the association between PA and enhanced academic performance is strengthened by related research that found higher levels of physical fitness to be linked with improved academic performance among children and teens. There are several possible mechanisms by which physical education and regular PA could improve academic achievement, including enhanced concentration skills and classroom behavior. Stevens et al. (33) reported that physical activity was associated with higher achievement scores in both mathematics and reading. Though in these investigations physical activity was only one of many correlates to academic performance, increased levels of physical activity garnered through team sport or increased activity outside of physical education courses was related to academic performance. Tomporowski et al. (35) in a recent review of the findings in children suggested that exercise might enhance children’s mental functioning. The present investigation builds upon the evidence of a relationship between physical activity and exercise to academic performance by demonstrating similar findings among Midwestern university students. Fox et al. (13) reported that among a large cohort of middle and high school students, participation in team sports was associated with higher GPA’s. Laure and Binsinger (19) reported a similar finding in a large cohort of French students. It should be noted that a previous study conducted in Kuwait (2) reported no relationship between results of a health promoting lifestyle, which included assessment of reported physical activity and academic performance. However; this study examined a smaller sample of students (n = 224) and the students were all nursing majors. The limited sample size and relative similarity of population may be in part responsible for this finding. The present investigation included a slightly larger sample (n = 253) and the students were drawn from several different fields of study within the school of physical education, sport, and exercise science. Yet even though the relationships are small, academic achievement is critical for nearly all college students. Therefore, any demonstrated relationship to academic performance is an important finding.
Demographic Differences in Physical Activity Patterns
It is important to analyze the various elements that contribute to the difference in physical activity patterns in college students. Although the correlations in the present study are small in magnitude, it has been demonstrated that there are many other factors that are related to academic performance such as socioeconomic status (33). Sex and ethnicity disparity in PA has been well documented and there is a need to bridge the gap in the two variables (17, 21). The study, however, noted that the PA discrepancy of sex and ethnicity still exists. Specifically, the results of the study align with the finding that females were found to perform significantly less PA than their male counterparts (14, 21). Joining with other studies on the topic (18, 20), this study echoes the need for more attention on female student PA. Moreover, there was a significant difference in PA events participated by females, indicating the selection of PA events is gender sensitive. PA interventions should take into consideration the PA preferences of the different genders and provide male and female students with the appropriate opportunities for PA that they prefer.
Regarding ethnicity, previous studies have generated a consistent finding that whites tend to engage in more PA than other ethnic groups and African Americans and Asians are the least physically active groups (18, 21, 34). Unfortunately, no data are available to explain why Asians and African Americans are less active than Whites and Latinos. The lack of diversity and the small sample size of the subject population in the present study do not allow for findings based on ethnicity.
Increasing Physical Activity Patterns
The benefits of physical activity are well known and accepted. Providing PA information that will motivate and enable people to change behavior and to maintain that change over time is the key. Public health groups have made a number of attempts to increase PA in higher education for more than a decade (3, 37). Considerable research has been conducted in the area of exercise behavior change and the majority of recent reports suggest that exercisers progress through a set of identifiable stages before reaching the maintenance stage when they have integrated exercise as part of their lives (25, 26). It is encouraging that the percentage of students who were involved in an adequate amount of PA was higher than the percentage reported in most previous studies (17, 18, 21). Universities serve as an excellent venue to provide college students with the opportunity for daily PA. The student recreation center (SRC) at many colleges and universities has evolved from being a place to exercise and take aerobics classes to becoming a high-powered recruitment tool (27). A survey of collegiate recreation providers indicated that fitness centers are flourishing and that accommodating user demand is one of the biggest challenges facing supervisors
The present investigation helps to fill a gap in the literature by expanding previous findings among elementary, middle, and high school students in regard to the associations of physical activity and academic performance into the collegiate level. Information concerning the most frequently engaged PA can be used to guide the reform of physical education curricula in K-12 and college programs (10, 29) as one of the ultimate physical education goals is to promote PA participation as a long term healthy lifestyle (23). Unfortunately, there were not data available to explain what interventions had been implemented on campus to promote and enhance PA among the students. Since this additional research confirms the high level of interest in exercise adherence services in the current study, recreation staff and sport administrators may want to consider supporting the development of standardized assessment and adherence services to increase the likelihood of students maintaining healthy, active lifestyles while in college. The study reiterates the need for a strong emphasis on lifetime PA as suggested by Corbin (10). On the other hand, because universities are still a part of the entire education system, the unique characteristics of university students must be considered (17). University student PA patterns might be different from other young adults who are not in higher education. Surprisingly, participants in the present study demonstrated the similar PA patterns to other young adults involved in most individual PA (aerobic and resistance training).
As might be expected, university students tend to participate in a wide variety of PA. One limitation of the present study is the focus on two primary areas of PA (aerobic and resistance training). Research has indicated that PA enjoyment and the social aspect of recreational activities are two of the primary factors that attract young adults to involvement in sports-related PA (4, 28). This topic was beyond the scope of the present study and is an area for future investigation. Further, self-reported questionnaires, sample size and limited comparable data combined with the secrecy that surrounds personal practice creates difficulty in assessing result reliability (1). Empirical data have demonstrated that participants have the propensity to over-report their PA (21) and as a result, the data collected in the study are most likely skewed toward the highest level of PA (16). Some experts suppose that these attitudes may be the consequence of social desirability. That is, the participants are reporting what they think a health professional or professor might want to hear rather than their true leisure and physical activity patterns. Survey research investigating an individual practice sometimes has limitations including: answers may be intentionally false as the subjects questioned may not wish to reveal their true feelings, even if anonymity and confidentiality are guaranteed by the investigators (1). Thus, these results should be interpreted with caution.
Lack of PA continues to contribute to the high prevalence of overweight individuals and obesity within the United States. Based upon the results of the present investigation, it can be suggested that colleges focus on the provision of aerobic exercise for students, through either outdoor or indoor recreational facilities. Given the number of universities across the country that are currently building or have previously built large recreation facilities for students, it can be suggested that these centers are constructed and staffed in such a manner as to encourage aerobic exercise. While these results are promising, the data do not account for the long-term maintenance of physically active lifestyles.
Applications in Sport
There is an ongoing need to foster PA opportunities across all the disciplines of physical education, recreation, dance, and sport. Recreation and sport administrators must not only be aware of national trends, such as the fact that 67% of non-institutionalized adults age 20 years and over are overweight or obese in the United States (9), but university administrators should diligently examine their facility needs and accompanying programming. The importance of PA within the college-aged student population is well established and a renewed focus among recreation and sport administrators is not only justified but necessary. The reality: most college students do not complete the recommended amount of PA each week. In an effort to increase PA among this population, sport administrators should leverage existing physical activity space, encourage enhancements where necessary and promote physical activity. Access to PA facilities is the first step to achieving higher exercise rates among students. Collegate sport/recreation administrators must be ready to evaluate their facilities based on the needs of the student population and properly follow through with appropriate accomodations. Recreation and sport administrators should also encourage aerobic exercise by building programs around the types of physical activity college students want and need. Physical education programs are important tools for those college students who want to be physically active but are unsure of how to do so. Physical education classes offer opportunities for students to learn about different PA choices and encourage adoption of those activities in their everyday life. Continued implementation of PA programming on university campuses benefits the students, faculty, university, and community. Recreational facilities and PA programs create value-added products that deserve an expanded focus within the university.
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