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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

physical activity indicators


  1. Implement point-of-decision prompts and motivational signage around campus to encourage stairwell use, walking, and other self-powered transportation.
    Point-of-decision prompts are visual cues used to guide individuals in adopting healthy behaviors. These prompts serve to integrate physical activity into daily living, create a climate where choices to be active are encouraged, and increase awareness about the benefits of physical activity.7 This strategy is appropriate for diverse populations and settings and has proven effective in eliciting desired active living behaviors.9 Placing point-of-decision prompts at locations such as elevator banks, stairwells, and NYU trolley stops will help students recognize cues and opportunities for physical activity.9
  2. Improve existing on-campus exercise facilities.
    NYU’s Coles Sports Center and Palladium Athletic Facility accommodate 1 million students, faculty, staff, and alumni visits to the facilities each year, supervise over 1,200 students playing on club sports and intramural teams, and enroll more than 8,000 NYU community members in 235+ recreation courses.27 Recognizing the importance of fitness centers, NYU will continue to improve its existing on-campus exercise facilities to meet the evolving needs of the NYU community.12 Many factors have been shown to impact fitness center utilization, including effective signage and suitable information about the facilities available on campus, accessibility and variety of exercise equipment, flexible class options and schedules, and aesthetic attributes such as air conditioning, lockers, or media.10,12 NYU will continue to implement innovative solutions to make its exercise facilities and resources accessible and appealing.

  3. Develop and implement tools to support physical fitness.
    Tools such as pedometers and interactive technologies have been shown to be effective in helping students reach and maintain their physical activity goals. Devices to support physical activity can be personal items, which reflect individual preferences, allow for self-monitoring, personalized feedback, and incremental goal-setting.11 Technology-based resources in particular can allow for individually tailored assistance or advice based on factors such as an individual’s specific interests, preferences, and readiness for change.8,9

  4. Improve awareness of and access to non-gym-based physical activity opportunities.
    Gym-based exercise may not be the preferred method of physical activity for some students because of location, time, perceived cost, motivation, or student comfort.19,20 NYU and the surrounding community offer a wealth of resources to accommodate the spectrum of students’ needs and preferences. Living an active lifestyle by integrating physical activity into an individual’s daily routine can be an effective way to increase personal fitness.5,6,9 Expanding structured programs for self-powered transportation, building partnerships with local vendors, and using technology-based methods increase the variety of and access to opportunities for physical activity.5,6,9,17

  5. Expand NYU organized physical activity opportunities such as peer support, classes, and extracurricular clubs.
    Building, strengthening, and maintaining social networks are effective strategies for increasing physical activity and improving overall physical fitness.4 The use of peer support and interactive social groups, such as classes and clubs, can increase engagement in physical activity by giving students the opportunity to be connected to other students and staff members, thereby enabling them to monitor their progress and encouraging them to continue their activities.5 These opportunities for physical activity can also reduce or eliminate some of the barriers to physical activity, such as safety concerns and lack of motivation.9

  6. Develop physical activity-focused special events.
    Involvement in university life is an important and vital aspect of a student’s collegiate career; special events, such as competitions and challenges, can be an effective method for getting students focused on and excited about participating in health-related activities, and for promoting physical activity.18,32 Creating University-wide events focused throughout the academic school year will not only engage students individually but can also cultivate social norms and traditions around physical activity.

  7. Reduce barriers to safe physical activity.
    Nationally, safety concerns are a leading barrier to participating in physical activity.2,5 Students are more likely to live active lifestyles if they feel safe and comfortable in their surroundings.6 Educating students about personal safety precautions and providing access to safety equipment may help reduce barriers to exercising outdoors.6 Such precautions include: being aware of their surroundings; exercising with a partner in a well-lit area or during daytime hours; or learning self-defense techniques.2

  8. Strengthen the integration of physical activity with the NYU academic curriculum.
    Physical activity has been shown to enhance brain function and improve on-task behavior during academic instruction time.3,13 NYU can integrate physical activity with learning by: scheduling physical activity breaks during instruction time, creating opportunities for students to be active through non-sedentary learning activities, providing institutional recognition for students’ co-curricular fitness skills and achievements throughout their tenure at NYU, and increasing for-credit physical activity-based courses.3,12,14,15 By providing a learning environment in which physical activity is incorporated, NYU has the potential to impact students’ short- and long-term physical activity behaviors, and to maximize students’ learning during academic activities that are usually sedentary.12

  9. Encourage community design and development that increase the capacity for walking, bicycling, and other self-powered transportation.
    Commuting to work or school by walking, bicycling, or by other physically active transportation can be an excellent way for adults to meet daily exercise recommendations.2 Alongside New York City’s strategies for building a greater capacity for self-powered transportation, such as walking and bicycling, NYU can expand students’ abilities to use active modes of transportation.28,29 Opportunities for such expansion could include opening up previously unused stairwells and increasing availability of bicycle racks.

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:
  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
  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
  27. New York University Division of Student Affairs. (2010). Division of Student Affairs 2009-10 annual report. New York University. Retrieved from
  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.

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