Several indicators emphatically affirm on the inadequacy of physical education and policies in contemporary colleges, as already established by most of the research studies review in the foregoing sections of the chapter. However, owing to the salient significance of this aspect of health and fitness among college students to the present research undertaking, this section will briefly highlight the findings generated by Chan-Sun and Azmutally (2013), Razak, Maizi and Muhamad (2013), and most recently, by Allena et al. (2015). Chan-Sun and Azmutally (2013) conducted an empirical study in a developing country, Mauritius, where Type 2 Diabetes mellitus has become a health concern among youthful citizens, largely because the youths have adopted a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits. The study investigated “the prevalence of Leisure-time physical activity among university students in Mauritius,” focusing on exploring the motivations and constraints of physically active and healthy eating. After sampling Mauritian university students and collecting quantitative and qualitative data using questionnaires, Chan-Sun and Azmutally (2013) found that most inactive university students were female, and that over 75% of the students did not adopt healthy eating and physical activity habits.
Most importantly however, in agreement with research findings published by Kilpatrick, Hebert and Bartholomew (2005), and Waldron and Dieser (2010) earlier, Chan-Sun and Azmutally (2013) found that university students in Mauritius only support healthy eating and physical activity/exercises for the “improvement in physical appearance and to have fun,” (p. 1). Again, in agreement with research findings generated in developed countries including the US, university students in Mauritius blame their poor eating and physical activity tendencies to their college lifestyles where there is “lack of time” (6). A decade earlier in the US, before Chan-Sun and Azmutally (2013) published their findings, over 50% of the college students had identified the lack of time in their busy college lifestyles as the reason for their poor diets and sedentary lifestyles (Silliman, Rodas-Fortier, & Neyman, 2004).
Focusing more specifically on contemporary college students and indicators of health and fitness, Allena et al. (2015) assert that although physical education should primarily be designed to equip students to adopt healthy lifestyles, as indicated by proper diets and physically activity and exercises. Unfortunately, “there is little evidence to show that current efforts are working” in the US, with critical levels of obesity, and obesity prevalence, with over 35.7% of American adults already obese. Between 2008 and 2011, physical activity in US schools has only changed with +8% (for sports, recreation, and fitness), alongside poor diets.
Finally, for the present section however, the reality of inadequate and unreliable physical education among college students is affirmed as a global problem. This reality has been ascertained by numerous scholars across the world, such as discussed in foregoing sections in the US, China, Mauritius, Sweden, and the UK as sample nations. A similar reality was identified in Libya and Malaysia, during a student recently conducted by Razak, Maizi, and Muhamad (2013). Investigating “physical activity, aerobic fitness, and body composition among college students in Malaysia and Libya,” Razak, Maizi, and Muhamad (2013) could only identify moderate and average scores for fitness and health (p. 30).
This section of the paper will now focus on identifying specific benefits ascribed to health and fitness, specifically among college students, by previous empirical research findings. To do so, the benefits demand a review from several perspectives, beginning with the stress and depression perspective. In a foregoing section of the chapter, the review heighted how Schmidt (2012) analyzed data from 152 conveniently sampled university students to determine how stress levels, physical activity, and consumption behaviors influence contemporary lifestyles of college students. The students emerged as more stressed, particularly female students, in absence of physical activity and exercises. This humble finding generated by Schmidt (2012) is however emphasized emphatically by Nguyen-Michel et al. (2006).
In their empirical study, Nguyen-Michel et al. (2006) investigated “associations between physical activity and perceived stress/hassles in college students,” given that “physical activity is often recommended as a strategy for managing stress” (p. 179). Previous research, according to the scholars, has however failed to relate stress levels of college students, to their level of health and fitness. Their cross-sectional study was conducted among 814 college students in California, examining stress indices in contrast to students’ physical activity levels, and using a questionnaire, assessing several a number of behavioral and psychosocial constructs (i.e. hassles, perceived stress, physical activity, and leisure time occupation), among the students. The study ultimately consolidated a significant negative association of college students’ physical activity and their health and fitness, asserting that the stress levels were directly related to the sedentary behavior of college lifestyles.
Another critical perspective when considering the benefits of health and fitness among college students is the quality of life perspective. This perspective asserts that optimal lifestyles accrue from healthy and fit college students, particularly integrating the essential facets of physical activity and exercises. Pellegrino and Smith (1998) argued that the “physical activity of play” is in both nature and function, a key component of growth and development among children and youths, even when at school (p. 577). The quality of a college student’s life is derived from the very premises of health and fitness. To Wolfsont (2002), “increasing behavioral skills and level of understanding in adults” is a valuable and effective strategy to integrate both the balance and cognitive/reflective potential of an individual’s brain (p. 187).
The reliability of the human brain therefore, as proposed by Piaget and Dennison, is according to Wolfsont (2002) is pegged on an active lifestyle that builds on both reflectivity and cognitive balance (simply phrased derivatively, as health and fitness). More recently, Chaddock et al. (2011) linked physical activity and aerobic fitness to the health, functioning, and development of the human brain among children. Relevant to the present discussion however, Chaddock et al. (2011), “emerging research illustrates the deleterious relationship between low levels of aerobic fitness and neurocognition in children,” yet modern schools are “increasingly de-emphasizing the importance of providing physical activity opportunities during the school day” (p. 1). By implication therefore, the quality and essence of life while in college relies significantly, on the health and fitness of the students.
Among all other perspectives however, it is the perspective of diseases and ill health that most emphatically ascribes the benefits of health and fitness. Reporting a study among American colleges, Hill (2015) recently affirmed on how physical exercises help “build strength, boost mood, and reduce symptoms” of a college students, in a manner that reduces his or her risk to develop common lifestyle diseases mostly attributed to sedentary lifestyles. Warburton, Nicol, and Bredin (2006) provide a concise summary of the ‘irrefutable evidence’ justifying the “health benefits of physical activity” (p. 801). The evidence includes physical activity and fitness has medical proof ascertain their additional improvement of an individual’s health status, physical inactivity/sedentary lifestyles positively influences development of chronic disease (including diabetes, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, osteoporosis and depression), and physical inactivity positively influences premature death risks.
Focusing on the Canadian population, Warburton, Nicol, and Bredin (2006) asserted that, “there is incontrovertible evidence that regular physical activity contributes to the primary and secondary prevention of several chronic diseases and is associated with a reduced risk of premature death” (p. 801). Most importantly however, Warburton, Nicol, and Bredin (2006) found that, physical fitness and health status of an individual, have a graded linear relationship with “the volume of physical activity and that “physically active people are at the lowest risk” (p. 801). Two years later and in Canada still, the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group reported on the use of sports and physical exercises as essential when promoting health and preventing diseases (Right to Play, 2008). The governmental agency recommended the adoption of physical activity programs in all colleges, where students are particularly more sedentary than at any other stage of their schooling life (Right to Play, 2008).
Health and fitness also promises college students immense benefits from the academic performance perspective. According to Chaddock et al. (2012), the present-day aerobic fitness of an individual, particularly children, can help accurately predict his or her cognitive performance an year from today. The researchers argued that cognitive health, creativity, learning and application of knowledge is optimized by health and fitness, where health and fitness defines how well an individual’s cognitive abilities are used (Chaddock et al., 2012). In agreement, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2007) published a report justifying the suitability of what they defined as “active education,” where physical education and physical activity when integrated with academic tasks yields optimal academic performance (p. 3). Previous research has established that, not only does “daily physical education not adversely affect academic performance,”, but students “who are physically active and fit tend to perform better in the classroom” (p. 1). Similar findings have been reported by Sibley and Etnier (2003), when relating “physical activity and cognition in children” using a critical systematic analysis of previous research findings (p. 243). To Trudeau and Shephard (2009), an active lifestyle optimizes brain health and by so doing improve academic performance of students.
Finally, health and fitness also triggers a series of social, physiological, and economic benefits for college students. Eime et al. (2013) conducted systematic literature review to establish “the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for children and adolescents,” and concluded that physical activity helps build the self-image and confidence of youths, improve their social skills, integrate them into the larger society, and optimize on the unique strengths of each individual. In agreement, Vail (2005) identified the benefits ascribed to physical activity and sports, as reported by systematic review of peer-reviewed journal articles within the Canadian jurisdiction. These benefits include economic growth and rewards for participants and the larger society, social unity and peace, as well as the ability of the youth to work in team or group settings.
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