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Physical Activity

Physical activity patterns during college are important influences on habitual physical activity during the full span of the adult life and, consequently, have significant implications for short- and long- term health outcomes.12 Despite the importance of physical activity on overall health, less than half of all NYU students engage in sufficient physical activity to meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.1 Research indicates that during the transition to college, exercise22 and fitness levels23 usually decrease and are unlikely to improve as students get older.24 Universities are uniquely positioned to implement a comprehensive strategy for increasing physical activity by addressing individual-level factors – such as time, motivation, or skill – and determinants beyond an individual’s control – such as social, economic, environmental factors.


Key Facts

  • 24.3% of NYU students are overweight, of which 6.0% are obese.1
  • Physical inactivity is a primary contributor to one-third of the adult population’s being
    overweight or obese.26
  • The incidence of obesity in the U.S. college-aged population has increased from 12% in 1991 to 36% in 2004.21
  • Only 45% of adults get the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity on 5 or more days per week, and adolescents are similarly inactive.9
  • 81 to 85% of adults continue the same physical activity patterns that they establish during their senior year of college.12
  • An estimated 40 to 45% of college students engage in fitness activities regularly (≥3 days/week).30,31
  • Non-exercising adults are more likely to be absent from work for more than 7 days when
    compared to those exercising at least once per week.16
  • Students with a GPA of 3.5 or higher are three times more likely to exercise than those with lower grades.25

Suggestions for Faculty

This page is intended to be a resource containing suggestions for what you can do to increase NYU students’ participation in physical activity and exercise.

Incorporate walking based trips or tours that correspond with course material. Walking is a simple yet effective way to increase physical activity and for students to experience new learning opportunities. Examples might include a trip to an art museum, or walking to the tenement museum in the lower east side. If class time does not allow for such excursions, consider replacing one assignment with a walking tour or trip.

Encourage students to stretch or exercise during class breaks.33-36 Examples could include five minutes of jumping jacks, stretching, running up and down the stairs, or walking the hallways. By integrating physical activity into the class schedule, even on a small scale, students can increase their personal fitness.37-39 Moreover, physical activity has been shown to enhance brain function and improve on-task behavior during academic instruction time, so a short break to exercise could lead to more effective use of the remainder of the class period.40,41

Post signage near the elevator of your department designating the nearest stairwell. At academic and administrative buildings, students are sometimes unaware of their surroundings, but a simple point-of-decision prompt such as a “Take the Stairs” sign might encourage them to integrate physical activity into daily living.42

If there is a specific cause or issue that is discussed as part of the curriculum, find out if there is a walk, road race, or special event that corresponds with the topic. Encourage students to sign up to participate in the event, and offer extra credit as an incentive. Events focused on physical activity can be an effective method for getting students excited about participating in health-related activities and for promoting physical activity.43,44

Promote NYU’s Bike Share program to encourage student participation (and sign up yourself!!) The NYU Bike Share Program provides free short-term bicycle rentals to NYU students, faculty, and staff who attend a Bike Share safety training workshop and enroll in the program. You can check out a lightweight Biria cruiser bikes from one of several convenient locations on campus, and drop the bike off at any other open location the same day. It’s a great way to explore NYC with your group, while also getting exercise!


physical activity indicators


a) Met 2007 ACSM/AHA Recommendations for Aerobic Exercises

  • Data Source: ACHA #29A & 29B
  • Survey Questions: On how many of the past 7 days did you: Do moderate intensity cardio or aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes? & On how many of the past 7 days did you: Do vigorous intensity cardio or aerobic exercise for at least 20 minutes?
  • Definition: proportion of students who engage in moderate-intensity cardio or aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes on 5 or more days per week, or vigorous-intensity cardio or aerobic exercise for at least 20 minutes on 3 or more days per week. [Physical Activity and Public Health: Updated Recommendations for Adults. From the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association (2007)]

b) Engaged in muscle strengthening activities at least 2 days per week

  • Data Source: ACHA 29C
  • Survey Question: On how many of the past 7 days did you: Do 8-10 strength training exercises for 8-12 repetitions each?
  • Definition: proportion of students who engage in strength training exercises 2 or more times per weekc

c) Physical activity at light or greater intensity at least 3 days per week

  • Data Source: ACHA Custom Question
  • Survey Question: In a typical week, how often did you participate in any physical activity or exercise? Examples of physical activity might include: walking 20+ blocks, gardening, dancing, biking, interactive gaming exercise (i.e. wii fit), or yoga.
  • Definition: proportion of students who participate in physical activity 3 or more days per week

  1. American College Health Association. (2011). American College Health Association - National College Health Assessment II: New York University Executive Summary Spring 2011. Hanover, MD: Author.
  2. National Prevention Council. (2011). National prevention strategy: America’s plan for better health and wellness. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of the Surgeon General.
  3. Stewart, J. A., Dennison, D. A., Kohl, H. W., & Doyle, J. A. (2004). Exercise level and energy expenditure in the TAKE 10! in-class physical activity program. Journal of School Health, 74(10), 397-400. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2004.tb06605.x
  4. Kahn, E. B., Ramsey, L. T., Brownson, R. C., Heath, G. W., Howze, E. H., Powell, K. E., ... Corso, P. (2002). The effectiveness of interventions to increase physical activity: A systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 22(4), 73-107. doi: 10.1016/S0749-3797(02)00434-8
  5. Edwards, P., & Tsouros, A. D. (2006). Promoting physical activity and active living in urban environments: The role of local governments. Copenhagen, Denmark: World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe.
  6. Keener, D., Goodman, K., Lowry, A., Zaro, S., & Kettel Khan, L. (2009). Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity in the United States: Implementation and measurement guide. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  7. Kirby, S. D., & Hollander, M. (2004). Consumer preferences and social marketing approaches to physical activity behavior and transportation and land use choices. Transportation Research Board and the Institute of Medicine Committee on Physical Activity, Health, Transportation, and Land Use. Retrieved from: http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/archive/downloads/sr282papers/sr282KirbyHollander.pdf
  8. Hurling, R., Catt, M., De Boni, M., Fairley, B. W., Hurst, T., Murray, P., ... Sodhi, J. S. (2007). Using Internet and mobile phone technology to deliver an automated physical activity program: Randomized controlled trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 9(2), E7. doi: 10.2196/jmir.9.2.e7
  9. Zaza, S., Briss, P. A., & Harris, K. W. (2005). The guide to community preventive services: What works to promote health? New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  10. Gilbert, J., Shirkey, J., Beason, K., Baller, S., & Rockey, D. (n.d.). The impact of campus recreation facilities and programs on undergraduate student recruitment and satisfaction at the University of Mississippi. MSAHPERD E-journal. Retrieved from http://www.msahperd.com/ejournal/campusrecfac.html
  11. Tudor-Locke, C., & Lutes, L. (2009). Why do pedometers work? A reflection upon the factors related to successfully increasing physical activity. Sports Medicine, 39(12), 981-993. doi: 10.2165/11319600-000000000-00000
  12. Sparling, P. B. (2003). College physical education: An unrecognized agent of change in combating inactivity-related diseases. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 46(4), 579-587. doi: 10.1353/pbm.2003.0091
  13. Cotman, C. W., & Engesser-Cesar, C. (2002). Exercise enhances and protects brain function. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 30(2), 75-79. doi: 10.1097/00003677-200204000-00006
  14. Sallis, J. F., Calfas, K. J., Nicholas, J. F., Sarkin, J. A., Johnson, M. F., Caparosa, S., ... Alcaraz, J. E. (1999). Evaluation of a university course to promote physical activity: Project GRAD. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 70(1), 1-10.
  15. Cardinal, B. J., & Spaziani, M. D. (2007). Effects of classroom and virtual "Lifetime Fitness for Health" instruction on college students' exercise behavior. Physical Educator, 64(4), 205-213.
  16. Proper, K., & Van Mechelen, W. (2008). Effectiveness and economic impact of worksite interventions to promote physical activity and healthy diet. New York, NY: World Health Organization.
  17. Coon, J. T., Boddy, K., Stein, K., Whear, R., Barton, J., & Depledge, M. H. (2011). Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. doi: 10.1021/es102947t
  18. United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2002). Physical activity evaluation handbook. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  19. Daskapan, A., Tuzun, E. H., & Eker, L. (2006). Perceived barriers to physical activity in university students. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 5, 615-620.
  20. Ebben, W., & Brudzynski, L. (2008). Motivations and barriers to exercise among college students. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, 11(5).
  21. Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Curtin, L. R., McDowell, M. A., Tabak, C. J., & Flegal, K. M. (2006). Prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States, 1999-2004. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 295(13), 1549-1555. doi: 10.1001/jama.295.13.1549
  22. Racette, S. B., Deusinger, S. S., Strube, M. J., Highstein, G. R., & Deusinger, R. H. (2005). Weight changes, exercise, and dietary patterns during freshman and sophomore years of college. Journal of American College Health, 53(6), 245-251. doi: 10.3200/JACH.53.6.245-251
  23. Butler, S. M., Black, D. R., Blue, C. L., & Gretebeck, R. J. (2004). Change in diet, physical activity, and body weight in female college freshman. American Journal of Health Behavior, 28(1), 24-32.
  24. Driskell, J., Kim, Y., & Goebel, K. (2005). Few differences found in the typical eating and physical activity habits of lower-level and upper-level university students. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 105(5), 798-801. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2005.02.004
  25. Flynn, J. I., Piazza, A. K., & Ode, J. J. (2009). The association between study time, grade point average and physical activity participation in college students. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (Supplement 1), 41, 297. doi: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000355455.64403.18
  26. National Center for Health Statistics. (n.d.). National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey - NHANES 2007-2008. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 20, 2011, from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes/nhanes2007-2008/nhanes07_08.htm
  27. New York University Division of Student Affairs. (2010). Division of Student Affairs 2009-10 annual report. New York University. Retrieved from http://www.nyu.edu/about/leadership-university-administration/office-of-the-president/office-of-the-provost/university-life/office-of-studentaffairs.html
  28. Viola, R., Roe, M., & Shin, H. (2010). The New York City pedestrian safety study & action plan. New York City Department of Transportation.
  29. New York City Department of Transportation. (2008). Sustainable streets strategic plan for the New York City Department of Transportation 2008 and beyond.
  30. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (1997b.) Youth risk behavior surveillance: National college health risk behavior survey—United States, 1995. MMWR 46(SS-6), 1-54.
  31. Leslie, E., et al. (2001. Age-related differences in physical activity levels of young adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 33, 255-58.
  32. Polubinsky, R.L., & Plos, J. M. (2007). Building camaraderie with fun, fitness, and friendly competition. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 78(2), 25-30.
  33. Stewart, J. A., Dennison, D. A., Kohl, H. W., & Doyle, J. A. (2004). Exercise level and energy expenditure in the TAKE 10! in-class physical activity program. Journal of School Health, 74(10), 397-400. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2004.tb06605.
  34. Sparling, P. B. (2003). College physical education: An unrecognized agent of change in combating inactivity-related diseases. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 46(4), 579-587. doi: 10.1353/pbm.2003.0091
  35. Sallis, J. F., Calfas, K. J., Nicholas, J. F., Sarkin, J. A., Johnson, M. F., Caparosa, S., ... Alcaraz, J. E. (1999). Evaluation of a university course to promote physical activity: Project GRAD. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 70(1), 1-10.
  36. Cardinal, B. J., & Spaziani, M. D. (2007). Effects of classroom and virtual "Lifetime Fitness for Health" instruction on college students' exercise behavior. Physical Educator, 64(4), 205-205-213.
  37. Edwards, P., & Tsouros, A. D. (2006). Promoting physical activity and active living in urban environments: The role of local governments. Copenhagen, Denmark: World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe.
  38. Keener, D., Goodman, K., Lowry, A., Zaro, S., & Kettel Khan, L. (2009). Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity in the United States: Implementation and measurement guide. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  39. Zaza, S., Briss, P. A., & Harris, K. W. (2005). The guide to community preventive services: What works to promote health? New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  40. Kirby, S. D., & Hollander, M. (2004). Consumer preferences and social marketing approaches to physical activity behavior and transportation and land use choices. Transportation Research Board and the Institute of Medicine Committee on Physical Activity, Health, Transportation, and Land Use. Retrieved from: http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/archive/downloads/sr282papers/sr282KirbyHollander.pdf
  41. United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2002). Physical activity evaluation handbook. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  42. Polubinsky, R.L., & Plos, J. M. (2007). Building camaraderie with fun, fitness, and friendly competition. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 78(2), 25-30.


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