The objective of this paper is to provide an overview of factors that influence physical activity adoption and/or maintenance for high school and college students (ages 15-24) based upon the recent behavioral research literature. Regardless of one's age, adoption and maintenance of physical activity is a complex process, reflective of multiple personal, interpersonal, and environmental variables. A more complete understanding of this topic requires familiarity with behavioral change theory. As a backdrop to the behavioral research concerning physical activity, a variety of behavioral change theories are discussed including classic Learning Theories, the Health Belief Model, Social-Cognitive Theory, the Transtheoretical Model (also referred to as the Stages of Change Model), and a variety of Ecological Models. Regarding the adoption and maintenance of physical activity by high school students, the Youth Physical Activity Model proposed by Welk (1999) provides a clear framework for understanding this behavior and for guiding interventions. In addition to the theoretical underpinnings of physical activity behavior, various determinants of activity are discussed, including demographic and biological factors; psychological, cognitive, and emotional factors; behavioral attributes and skills; social and cultural factors; physical environment factors; and physical activity characteristics. Furthermore, the determinants that promote physical activity (facilitators) and the factors that are perceived as discouraging physical activity (barriers) are explored. A summary of some of the research findings regarding physical activity behavior promotion in school settings through physical education programs is presented. Additionally, strategies for behavior modification aimed at increasing physical activity are delineated.
Health promotion is strongly associated with personal lifestyles and involves two main processes: stopping negative (unhealthy) behaviors (such as smoking, alcohol consumption, or sedentary behaviors) and starting positive behaviors (such as regular exercise, good dietary practices, or sunscreen use). Changing behavior, however, is not an easy task. Health-related behavior change involves an array of factors and is a dynamic process with frequent transitions between the several stages that exist from the current status to the expected behavior (for example, the change from a sedentary life to a physically activity one).
Physical activity is widely recognized as an important behavioral characteristic for health promotion and disease prevention (Bouchard & Shephard, 1994; Pate et al., 1995; US Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). A large portion of the population, however, is not active enough to obtain these health benefits, and among those who begin an exercise program, 50% tend to drop out after the first three to six months (Dishman, 1993). Depending on the definition of "sedentary," studies indicate that between 30% and 60% of the adult population in most industrialized countries are considered sedentary during leisure-time (Dishman, 1993). Nearly two-thirds (60%) of U.S. adults report irregular patterns of leisure-time physical activity, while close to one-third (30%) report no leisure-time physical activity at all (US Department of Health and Human Services, 1996).
Despite the abundance of information that demonstrates the role of physical activity in health and quality of life, this information alone has not been sufficient to promote active lifestyles among the majority of the population. In general, people do not exercise just because scientific evidence indicates that they should. Also, it appears that the traditional sports-centered physical education curricula, aggravated by the decreasing time allocated to such programs, are not effective in promoting active lifestyles (Dale & Corbin, 2000). There is clear evidence that physical activity patterns can be changed (Sallis & Owen, 1999), but the best approach for promoting such changes or predicting the extent of those changes is difficult to determine. …