Previous Physical Activity Experiences of Young Female University Students

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Burroughs, Hannah
Physical activity , Women , Sports , Adolescence , Childhood , Adulthood
Despite numerous physical and mental health benefits of physical activity, the majority of adult females fail to meet the recommended physical activity guidelines (Statistics Canada, 2015). As a result, women are less likely to achieve optimum levels of health. As childhood physical activity levels are predictive of physical activity in adulthood (Dennison, Straus, Mellits, & Charney, 1988; Telama et al., 2005), it is imperative to understand how previous physical activity experiences continue to affect women. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore young adult females’ previous physical activity experiences, and how these experiences have influenced participants’ current attitudes and behaviours towards fitness. Data were collected from 12 female students between ages 17 and 24 from the Faculty of Education and the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies (SKHS) at Queen’s University, Canada. Participants were asked to complete a short questionnaire assessing basic demographic information and current and previous physical activity involvement. Semi-structured interviews were then conducted. The data were analyzed using a thematic approach. Four key themes emerged from the data: (1) Social Agents, (2) Expectations, (3) Values and Costs, and (4) Environmental Influences. All participants engaged in physical activity as children; however, those women who were less physically active at the time of the study experienced a decrease in fitness levels during adolescence. At this time, the three students who were less active (Semi-Active Students) began to notice individual differences in athletic ability. As their physical abilities were perceived as less developed than that of their peers, they started to feel self-conscious when performing in physical education classes. Parental support also decreased for the Semi-Active Students, as parents tended to prioritize academics. The Active Students (n=9) continued to be physically active and were primarily motivated by their intrinsic interest in sports. Positive feedback from teachers and coaches were also influential. Although certain aspects of these themes affected women in different ways, similar trends among the Semi-Active Students and the Active Students emerged from the data, demonstrating implications for future research and practice.
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