An investigation of physical activity, influences on participation and psychological well-being in female undergraduates.
Bulley, C. J.
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Bulley, C. (2002) An investigation of physical activity, influences on participation and psychological well-being in female undergraduates., no. 688.
Recent health surveys have found that many young women do not participate in sufficient physical activity to produce health benefits. Consequently, they are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis in later life. The transition between secondary and higher education is associated with particular risks in relation to declining activity participation. There is clearly a need to explore the aetiology and impact of activity behaviour change in this context. A literature review identified several gaps relating to the validity of physical activity measurement, mental health benefits associated with participation and factors influencing changes in activity choices over time. Three studies were designed to address these issues in a female undergraduate population at Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh. A theory is proposed to explain relationships between many of the variables explored. Study One aimed to validate the Scottish Physical Activity Questionnaire (SPAQ) against an estimate of time in moderate and vigorous activity derived from heart rate monitoring data. Women were monitored for three days of the seven-day recall period (N=23). Self-report and heart rate estimates of time in activity differed significantly (t test: p=0.008) and correlated poorly (r=0.03). The questionnaire was modified as a result of analysis and testing was repeated in a sample of 21 women. Modified SPAQ for students and heart rate estimates of time in activity did not differ significantly (p=0.119) and demonstrated improved correlations (r=0.59). Stage of Behaviour Change classifications also demonstrated hierarchical agreement with subjective and heart rate estimates of time in activity. Study Two aimed to establish baseline levels of exercise and moderate lifestyle physical activity in female undergraduates and to explore associations with psychological well-being over time. A large longitudinal survey was carried out using the modified SPAQ for students and psychometric measurement tools. The first survey time-point occurred at the start of the academic year and according to Stage of Behaviour Change classification 51% of participants were not active enough to achieve health benefits (n=425). The second survey was carried out two months later. Significant correlations were found between self-esteem scores and Stage of Behaviour Change classification in relation to moderate lifestyle PA (r=0.29), but not vigorous exercise. The low response to survey two (n=89) necessitated a change in methodology, implemented in the final study. Study Three aimed to explore changes in activity over the first academic year, influences on activity-related decisions and the effects of these choices on psychological well-being. Sixteen participants from the previous study sample were interviewed in a qualitative study design. Content analysis indicated that individuals frequently decreased their activity participation on entry to higher education, but some re-incorporated activity into their lifestyles over subsequent months. Many influences on activity patterns were discussed, including the negative impact of transition periods such as the summer vacation. Data analysis led to the development of the Narrative Integration Theory, which describes motivation to participate in physical activity as being influenced by the immediate affective reaction to the experience. This is reciprocally related to interacting personal, cultural, environmental and social influences and their integration into a sense of identity. Positive experiences are required to alter negative perceptions and to build feelings of competence in relation to activity participation. This thesis provides further understanding of the challenges to activity behaviour experienced by female students. Decisions relating to uptake of activity and continued participation are frequently made with conscious processing and reflect complex issues relating to personal identity and self-evaluations.