The Impact of Physical Inactivity on University Students


Inactivity physically is one characteristic that is commonly displayed by students who are in university is inactivity physically and fresh students are observed to be the lot that is most vulnerable having the least activity physically. The findings of this study will be helpful additions to the data that is already in existence on the habits of physical activity, wellbeing and motivation of individuals in addition to determining the relationships that exist between these variables and which could possibly be used for purposes of promoting wellbeing. The studies correlation data will be helpful for students for purposes of setting and further monitoring their wellbeing and that will go a long way in motivating them to maintain the best of habits during their entire lifetimes.

Chapter One: Introduction

1.0 Background

The Healthy People 2020 report (2008) established that there were up to 32.6% of adults who had hit 18 years of age who did not engage in any form of physical activity. While there are numerous studies that have been carried out in regards to physical activity and its health benefits, the number of university students who are physically inactive still remains high.

It is evident that inactivity physically has been increasing and has grown to become a serious problem in public health. Largely, the inactivity is a result of the modern societies where the rules of social behaviour are dictated by technological advances and capitalism. Diamond. (2015), estimated that there are up to 2 million deaths every year that come about as a result of lack of physical activity. The lifestyle changes have had an effect on the exercise and nutrition patterns which has led to increased exposure of populations to the risks of chronic diseases.

Based on the above, it becomes important to know the patterns and trends among students, emphasising that it is during the school periods that habits and personalities are consolidated and school life brings new possibilities of adoption of sedentary behaviour. The prevalence of inactivity physically among university students is always observed to be high as a result of different factors like lack of support socially, time and motivation.

Motivation is very important if exercise cultures are to be inculcated in the students. Thorgesen-Ntoumani (2015), proposes that those students who are motivated intrinsically for exercise have a higher likelihood of being active aerobically and being motivated to continuously exercise.


1.1 Theory of Planned Behaviour

Intentions of participating in physical activities are determined by three different variables, and these are; attitudes towards the behaviour, perceived behaviour control and subjective norms. Adequate control over the behaviour in question and Motivation are determinants of the performance of behaviour (Dodd, Forshaw, & Ward, 2012).

It then follows that perceived behavioural control could be helpful in prediction of attainment of goals independent to some degree of the actual control that is perceived. The theory further asserts that the attitudes of individuals towards different outcomes of behaviour are quite important factors that facilitate one to continually engage in particular behaviour types. The theory is quite prominent as a predictor of behaviours that are related to health, for instance, physical activities combined with influences that are social like the motivation of an individual to do something (Dodd et al. 2012).

1.2 Physical Wellbeing

An individual’s wellbeing is not only related to one not being sick but actually brings together a number of factors including choices of lifestyle behaviours that ensures that one remains healthy, avoid the diseases and conditions that are preventable and having a balance of the state of mind, spirit and body. An individual’s positive wellbeing is associated with benefits that are biophysical and that are aimed at reduction of the cardiovascular mortality in the diseased and healthy persons (NHS, 2018). According to Hallam, Bilsborough & de Courten (2018) those individuals who engage in activities that are physical are reported to have wellbeing that is positive and with minimal lifestyle diseases.

1.3 Research Question

What relationship exists between motivation, well-being and physical exercise amongst students in universities?

Research Hypothesis

There is a relationship between the motivation levels and those students who regularly engage in physical exercise.

There is a relationship between the level of wellbeing and those students who regularly exercise.

1.4 Assumptions of the Research

  • The participants involved in the study will be truthful for completion of the physical activity recall survey to the best of their abilities.
  • Different participants will put forth their best efforts into the completion of the fitness tasks.

This research was aimed at developing a better understanding of the existing relationship between the levels of motivation among students and their wellbeing outcomes. Pedagogical implications of the study include how the health of university students together with courses for wellbeing can be able to pan the aspects of physical activity with the content that is based on knowledge. There is limited data currently on this area. The study will also be pivotal for policymakers within the sector of education as it will help them to come up with policies that will be pivotal for addressing those concerns that are related to health that are faced by individuals from the young generation due to lack of physical exercise. That will go a long way in improving individual’s wellbeing within societies.

Chapter Two: Literature Review

2.0 Transition of High School to University

The experience of students change in their environments as they transition from high school to universities in relation to resources, behaviours, and environment. Students form behaviours and attitudes during this stage that could bring about habits within their lifestyles that include physical activity and nutrition. Some of the activities that are commonly observed amongst students in universities include minimal uptake of nutrition, alcohol consumption and sedentary lifestyle (Madonia, Cox and Zahl, 2014). With increased consumption of calories and inactivity physically, young adults 18-29 years of age tend to gain weight far more than any other individual groups. Tropp et al. (2011) posits that university freshmen gain averagely 8-18% weight during the first year in university.

Some of the challenges that are not foreseen that students face include the removal of engagements that were previously held and that had a relation with sports, absence of adjusting issues and set routines with a relation to weight.

2.2 Physical Inactivity for the University Students

Both genetic and behavioural factors could bring about obesity. Studies that have been done in the past have suggested that physical exercise increases the metabolic activities of individuals. The increased cases of obesity are a result of lack of physical exercise among students in universities. According to the Madonia, Cox and Zahl report (2014), only 47.2% of students in universities engage in physical exercise of moderate intensity.

2.3 Exercise Motivation

The Theory of Planned Behaviour is used for testing physical behaviours through subjective norms, attitudes and Perceived Behaviour Control. Ma, Shek & Lai (2016) found out that those individual students who were motivated intrinsically had a higher likelihood of continuously engaging in physical exercises throughout their lives. They further established that there is a positive correlation between intrinsic motivation and self-reporting towards activities that are physical.

2.4 University Intervention

As a result of eating habits that are not satisfactory in most university setups, universities should come up with ways that are common ways of university students education on the habits of eating and physical exercise through courses that teach about health and wellbeing. At the forefront of university interventions, there should be wellness courses that need to be specifically designed to help in promotion of physical activities and not just sport-specific offerings.

Chapter Four: Results and Discussion

The Well-Being Scale consisted of 14 items (α = .924). The Leisure Time Scale consisted of 4 items and showed is negative due to negative average covariance. Cronbach’s Alpha for Perceived Behavioural Control (PBC) was (items= 7; α= .314). Whereas for Subjective Norms, since there were two items only, a Pearson’s correlation was used to test for reliability and showed; approval of people in social network and participant’s friends who exercise regularly were significantly correlated, r = .30, p < .05. Regular physical exercise is often characterised as a health behaviour that is positive that has benefits that are psychological.

From this study, it is evident that those individuals who dedicate more days weekly to physical training experience significantly less anger, depression, stress and cynical distrust than other individuals who spent fewer days training and those who do not train at all. Additionally, those who train regularly also have the perception that they are healthier compared to those who train less often and those who do not train at all. Additionally, those who are committed to physical exercise are also observed to have a stronger feeling of social integration while also portraying higher levels of the coherence sense than other individuals who exercise not as frequently.

This study shows a significant positive relationship between subjective norm, behavior and Perceived Behavioral Control with intention. This positive relationship is in line with studies that were conducted in the past (Armitage, 2005; Arjen, 2011; and Montano & Kasprzyk, 2015). It is evident that attitude plays a critical role in the wellbeing of students. Good attitude has the potential of enhancing the wellbeing of a student. With a positive attitude, there is a higher probability that the wellbeing of a student would be good.

Bivariate analysis reveal a significant association between the intentions of engaging in exercise and perceived behavioral control, social norms and attitudes. PBC, attitudes and intentions are predictors are behavior, bit not normative beliefs that are social. There existed a negative correlation with intentions and perceived barriers to behavior and these are predictive of behavior. Additionally, previous behaviors are also predictors of behavior and intention.

The finding that subjective norms are not significant predictors of participation in physical activities is consistent with the findings of studies that were done in the past (Luszcznska et al. 2011; Montano, 2015 and Rebar et al. 2016). The influence exerted on levels of exercise among students by social norms is minimal. Attitudes are not consistent in the prediction of behaviour according to this study, even though previous studies have established that attitudes are predictive of behaviour.

One of the most important findings of this study is that personal norms are not predictive of behaviour and exert more influence when compared to attitudes. The explanation behind this is that personal norms are more salient to individuals and their association to emotions is closer when compared to attitudes that are more diverse and as such exert more influence on behaviour even more consistently under conditions that are varying of ease of behavioural performance (Rhodes & Dickau, 2013).

On itself, PBC failed to emerge as a predictor that is significant of exercise behaviour independent of intention. Additionally, there were no interactions between these variables that emerged as predictive of behaviour. That could be a consequence of the PBC scale being confounded with a self-efficacy measure. It is possible to entirely mediate efficacy through intention as part of the process of development of intentions consists of efficacy judgments. That, however, fails to hold in this study. Component analysis for factor extraction was performed on the items that made up the PBC measure followed by varimax rotation. Only one factor was yielded from the analysis and which accounted for only 58% of the variance. The different factors were observed to load highly on this factor. According to Hagar & Chatzisarantis. (2014), if PBC has to influence behaviour, there are two conditions that have to be met if PBC is to influence behaviour independent of the effects it has on intention. First, the said behaviour needs to at least in part be determined by factors that are beyond the control of an individual and then it is also necessary that PBC is realistic reasonably.

Personal norms are representations of the perceptions of individuals that the normative and attitudinal components of the model are not able to capture. According to Ruby et al. 2011, these are individual beliefs about the inherent rightness or wrongness of behaving in a particular manner in addition to anticipated unpleasant or pleasant reactions that are affective.

It is worth noting that there existed no significant gender differences in the different TPB variables. Even with that, characteristics of sex role identity (femininity and masculinity) proved to be predictors of two of the TPB components. A relationship that was significant but weak between perceived behavioural control and masculinity was identified. The result is parallel to previous studies by (Rebar et al. 2016; Sniehotta, Presseau & Arujo-Soares, 2014; Sheeran et al. 2014) additionally, a relationship that was positive between femininity and a measure of attitude that was not direct was observed. Particularly, individuals who were highly feminine were observed to hold more positive beliefs that exercising would not lead to loss of time that was precious and that its effects on their physical appearance would be positive.

The interpretation of the results of this study were approached with caution because of the study`s modest sample size and the use of a student population. According to this study, subjective norm is not significant as a predictor for exercise intentions. While attitude towards exercise was not consistent as a predictor of the intention to exercise, that could be attributed to the fact that during school periods that are demanding, for instance, during exams, the predictive ability of attitude over intention could be diminished. Additionally, the findings are supportive of the view that it is necessary to incorporate the personal norm concept in the theory of planned behaviour.

From the perspective of the wellbeing of students, the data in this study provides an emphasis of the importance of development of environments that are facilitative of exercise engagements. Their exists two processes that are key in attempts of increasing levels of exercise among university students and these include instigation of behavioural change and its subsequent maintenance. It is not easy to maintain any of the factors (Sommer, 2011). In the first three months of exercise, drop-out levels are always high even though it is observed to stabilise as time passes on. It is therefore necessary that initiatives foster and encourage exercise actively up to the point it stabilises in the repertoire of students. It is necessary that the participation in the exercise activities is made interesting. With no doubt, that could be achieved through increasing the available facilities for exercising and further making it easy to access them.

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