Move It: Physical Activity Among University Students

Client:  The Young Foundation.

What makes you move?  What motivates your body to be physically active, and what prevents you?  On behalf of the Young Foundation we have been working to gain insight into the physical activity habits of UCL’s students.  We tell their story from their perspective.

“I’m not Sporty”:

Children born today are predicted to live a lifespan that is 5 years shorter than their parents, largely due to inactivity.  The move from home to university is one key transitional period which often determines your relationship to physical activity, and can determine it for life.  This project looked at what physical activity means to students.  How do habits change?  How do they fit activity around their studies?  What drives them to move and what are the barriers?

Students were asked to take photos of the objects and moments in their lives when they felt motivated or demotivated to be physically active.  We also spent extended periods of time with our informants, talking with them about activity, and the rhythms and routines of their day.  The research found that a major barrier to activity was the perceived notion of being “sporty”.  Intensive sports were off-putting due to lack of skill, effort, cost, and some of the social environments of sportiness.  The area which most activity comes from is transport:  walking rather than taking the bus or tube, biking, and travelling or touring.  Our informants need a reason to be active, and are motivated to move because of experiences.  The idea of being active for ‘the exercise’ is secondary.

So how can we re-think physical activity?  Can we integrate physical activity into work and school life, and avoid making physical activity a separate addition to the day?  Do we need to start changing how we think about physical activity?  It’s not just sport, it’s using the flight of stairs instead of the lift.  It;s enjoying travelling from here to there using ourselves to move.  Can we re-think our lifestyle design to integrate movement and activity as essential and enjoyable?

Some of the products of the work can be found on the Young Foundation’s blog, at:

Work conducted by:  Elizabeth Corbin, Charlotte Hollands, Sarah McFalls, and Hannah Varga

Contact @YF:  Will Norman, Victoria Boelman

Summer 2013

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