Changes in short-term attitudes toward physical activity and exercise of university personal wellness students.
Physical fitness (Statistics)
College students (Psychological aspects)
College students (Health aspects)
Mack, Mick G.
Shaddox, Lea Ann
Pub Date:
Name: College Student Journal Publisher: Project Innovation (Alabama) Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2004 Project Innovation (Alabama) ISSN: 0146-3934
Date: Dec, 2004 Source Volume: 38 Source Issue: 4
Event Code: 680 Labor Distribution by Employer
Product Code: E197500 Students, College
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

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This study examined the attitudes toward physical activity and exercise of university students enrolled in Personal Wellness classes. 1, 625 undergraduate students completed the Attitudes Toward Exercise and Physical Activity (ATEPA) inventory on the first and last day of the class. Paired-samples t test results comparing the mean pretest ATEPA score to the mean posttest score revealed a significant improvement, ([bar.t](1624) = 2.91, [bar.p] < .01). A repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) also revealed significant between-subjects effects for gender, [bar.F](1, 1579) = 30.23, [bar.p] < .01, and exercise history, [bar.F](2, 1579) = 35.16, [bar.p] < .01. Results suggest that students showed a significant improvement in attitude toward physical activity and exercise following completion of the university-required personal wellness course. Both exercise history and gender appeared to have influenced these effects.


Physical inactivity is a major health concern in the United States. While nearly 70% of 12-year olds reported engaging in vigorous physical activity on a regular basis, only 35% of 21-year olds maintained this level (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2000). Research examining this phenomenon has identified several contributing factors. One of the key determinants is attitude (Dzewaltowski, 1994; Noland & Feldman, 1984). Studies have shown that persons with positive attitudes toward physical activity generally exercise more frequently and more intensely than individuals with less positive attitudes (Ennis, 1996; McPherson et al., 1967; Portman, 1995).

Though the development of attitudes begins at an early age, many adult behaviors are established during late adolescence (Dishman & Dunn, 1988). Furthermore, because attitudes are not a fixed attribute, they can be changed (Silverman & Subramaniam, 1999). For example, a prolonged positive experience may move the individual toward a more positive attitude. This belief has led many universities to include a physical education or personal wellness requirement with the goal of developing skills and attitudes necessary for implementing positive health-related decisions. However, the effectiveness of these programs to exhibit changes in short-term attitudes has not been sufficiently demonstrated.

Mowatt, DePauw, and Hulac (1988) examined the attitudes of 564 students enrolled in elective activity courses. Pre and post tests were administered to experimental classes receiving mini-lecture materials and to control groups. Few significant differences were found on any of the questions. Matthys and Lantz (1998) assessed the pre and post attitudes of 156 university students enrolled in a required eight week activity class. No significant differences were found. In a study of 89 Brazilian college females, Nahas (1992) randomly assigned low-fit subjects to two experimental groups and a control group. Post test scores found significant differences in attitude toward physical activity between the experimental group receiving six 50-minute lectures and the control group. Finally, Twellman, Biggs, and Lantz (2000) investigated 103 students' attitudes before and after completion of a semester long health education course consisting of two days of lecture and three days of activity per week. Results revealed significant improvements in attitude toward exercise. In summary, it appears that research examining short-term attitudes has been inconclusive. Therefore, the purpose of the present study was to further investigate the short-term attitudes toward physical activity and exercise of students enrolled in university-required personal wellness courses.



1,995 undergraduate students enrolled in university-required personal wellness courses volunteered for this study. Due to incomplete data, the number of students who dropped the course after the first week, being absent the first or last day of class, or providing incorrect ID numbers; 1,625 participants (81.5%) completed both the pretest and posttest. Thus, the present sample is based on these 1,625 students. Of these, 63.3% (n = 1,028) were female while 36.7% were male (n = 597). 16.7% of the participants were first year students, 37.3% were second year, 28.3% were third, 17.0% were fourth, and 0.6% were in their fifth year of college.


Attitudes toward physical activity and exercise were assessed using the Attitudes Toward Exercise and Physical Activity (ATEPA) inventory (McPherson & Yuhasz, 1968). This inventory consists of 50 statements scored using a 5-point Likert-type scale. Participants are asked to indicate whether they agree or disagree (strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree) with each statement concerning their feelings, beliefs, and actions. Sample questions include: "I think exercise is good for me"; "Exercise helps to work off emotional tensions and anxieties"; and "Exercising with a group leads to improved social relationships." The score on each item is summed resulting in scores ranging from 50 to 250. Higher scores indicate a more positive attitude toward exercise and physical activity.

Reported reliability coefficients for the attitude inventory have ranged from .81 to .95 and the inventory successfully discriminated between criterion groups presumed to have favorable and unfavorable attitudes toward exercise and physical activity (McPherson & Yuhasz, 1968). The inventory has also been used to reveal significant differences between experienced exercisers and sedentary adults (McPherson et al., 1967) as well as changes in attitudes following participation in a required college health education course (Twellman, Biggs, & Lantz, 2000).


Following approval of the Human Subjects Review Board, students enrolled in university-required personal wellness courses were asked to complete the ATEPA and provide demographic information during the first day of class. Demographic information included their sex, year in school, and exercise history. Exercise history choices were Inactive (no regular physical activity with a sit-down job), Light (no organized physical activity leisure time with 3 or 4 hours of walking or standing per day), Moderate (sporadically involved in recreational activities such as weekend golf, tennis, cycling), Heavy (consistent job activities of lifting or stair climbing or participating regularly in recreational/fitness activities such as jogging, cycling at least 3 times/week for 30-60 min./session) or Vigorous (participation in extensive physical activity for 60 plus minutes 4x/week). During the last day of classes at the end of the semester, students were again asked to complete the ATEPA.

The personal wellness course consists of two days of lecture each week for the entire semester plus a first and second-half semester activity. Lecture components include decision making, exercise theory, nutrition, contemporary threats, and stress management. One of the activities is predominantly aerobic exercise-based while the other lab primarily skill-based. Students are required to attend the activity part of the class for the entire semester with most activities meeting twice a week for 75 minutes each time. Aerobic exercise activity options included aqua aerobics, circuit aerobics/weights, swim conditioning, aerobic and aerobic combo exercise, biking, aerobic cross training, power-walking/jogging, and cardio-kick boxing. Skill activities available to be selected included badminton, dance, karate, racquetball, rock climbing, volleyball, weight lifting, table tennis, capoeira, canoeing, skin and scuba diving, backpacking, golf, tennis, mind/body/fitness, yoga/pilates, tai chi, outdoor adventure, ice climbing, and jui jitsu.


Descriptive data for pre- and posttest ATEPA scores can be found in Table 1 for the entire sample by gender, exercise history, and year in school. Paired-samples t test results comparing the mean pretest ATEPA score to the mean posttest score revealed a significant improvement, ([bar.t](1624) = 2.91, [bar.p] < .01). The 95% confidence interval for the mean difference was .65 to 3.31. In other words, most students increased their ATEPA scores by .65 to 3.31 points. Separate paired-samples t tests were also performed to compare pretest scores to posttest scores for the groups identified in Table 1. Results indicated significant differences for females ([bar.t](1027) = 3.81, [bar.p] < .01), inactive exercise history ([bar.t](28) = 3.47, [bar.p] < .01), light exercise history ([bar.t](260) = 2.86, [bar.p] < .01), third year students ([bar.t](459) = 2.62, [bar.p] < .01), and fourth year students ([bar.t](276) = 2.63, [bar.p] < .01). None of the other differences were significant, p > .05.

In an attempt to examine possible effects of gender, exercise history, and year in school, additional follow-up analyses were performed. Because of the relatively small number of subjects in three of the categories, some of the groupings were combined. This resulted in three exercise history levels (inactive/light, moderate, and heavy/vigorous) and four classifications for year in school (first, second, third, and fourth+). To determine whether these factors influenced students attitudes toward physical activity and exercise, a repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted. Gender, exercise history, and year in school served as the independent variables while the pre and posttest ATEPA scores served as dependent variables.

Tests of overall between-subjects effects were significant for gender, [](1, 1579) = 30.23, [] < .01, and exercise history, [](2, 1579) = 35.16, [] < .01. No significant differences were found for the main effects of year in school, [](3, 1579) =. 19, [] > .05. Likewise, none of the between-subject interaction effects or within-subject effects were significant, [] > .05.

Separate follow-up t tests were conducted to determine whether there were any pre- or posttest differences on ATEPA scores by gender. "Levene's Test of Equality of Variances" for pretest scores indicated that the variances between samples were equal. Equal variance results revealed significant differences, [](1623) = 3.84, [] < .01. Similarly, Levene's test indicated equal variances for posttest results with significant t test differences between females and males, [](1623) = 4.68, [] < .01. As shown in Table 1, females had significantly higher pre- and posttest scores than did males.

A follow-up repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) examining differences in prescore means by exercise history was significant, [](2, 1602) = 50.65, [] < .01. Tukey HSD post-hoc test revealed differences between inactive/light and moderate ([] = 185.69 & 192.18, respectively), inactive/light and heavy/vigorous ([] = 185.69 & 198.42, respectively), and moderate and heavy/vigorous ([] = 192.18 & 198.42, respectively). A repeated measures ANOVA examining postscore differences was also significant, [](2, 1602) = 13.14, [] < .01. Tukey HSD post-hoc test revealed differences between inactive/light and heavy/vigorous ([] = 191.36 & 199.52, respectively), and moderate and heavy/vigorous ([] = 193.10 & 199.52, respectively).


Results from the present study show a significant improvement in short-term attitudes toward exercise and physical activity after completing a university-required personal wellness course. Participating in and studying the benefits of exercise over the course of a semester appears to have improved students' attitudes. Positive pre and post test differences were reported for 11 of the 12 sub-groups with 5 of the 12 being statistically significant. These findings provide support for the belief that a personal wellness requirement may positively influence attitudes necessary for implementing positive health-related decisions.

Follow-up analyses may have also revealed a number of influential variables. First, exercise history had a significant effect regarding students' attitudes toward exercise and physical activity on both pre and post tests. Furthermore, students indicating that they did not participate in any regular physical activity displayed an average improvement in attitude of almost 9%. Students having a light exercise history also showed significant improvements. These findings support those of Nahas (1992) and take on added importance if one agrees with his suggestion that it is perhaps more important, from a public health perspective, to motivate those who are inactive than those who are already moderately active or above.

Another variable which had a significant effect on attitudes toward physical activity was gender. Females had higher pre and post test scores than did males, and also displayed significant improvements over the semester. Conversely, attitudes of the males did not change. Reasons for this are unknown. Perhaps it reflects the attitudes they had toward the university-required personal wellness course. Females may have taken the course and instructors more seriously while males were indifferent. Another possible explanation is that though MANOVA interaction effects were not statistically significant, a higher percentage of females had inactive/light exercise histories than did males. Specifically, 21.5% of females reported an inactive/light exercise history, 47.8% moderate, and 30.7% heavy/vigorous. In contrast, only 12.1% of males classified themselves as inactive/light while 49.7% were heavy/vigorous. A final explanation could be that males were more inclined to use the post test to express their displeasure with the required class than females. A cursory examination of the post minus pretest difference scores shows that 5.3% of females had differences of -27 or more (26.9 was the overall []) in contrast to 10.1% of males. Almost twice as many males had negative differences larger than one standard deviation as did females which may have affected the results.

The final variable that may have had an effect was the students' year in school. While MANOVA results for the main effect were nonsignificant, t tests revealed significant improvements for only third and fourth year students. It is interesting to note that upper class students had significantly improved attitudes while freshmen and sophomores did not. This may reflect a more serious attitude toward the importance of physical activity or may simply be a by-product of a more scholarly approach to their studies in general.

Though encouraging, this study is not without limitations. First, the quantitative measurement of attitude is always dependent on the validity and reliability of the instrument (Silverman & Subramaniam, 1999) and the honesty of the participants. Thus, replication using additional measures of attitude is necessary. Second, the effects of the different instructors and types of physical activity options needs to be investigated. For example, researchers should examine possible instructor effects such as younger vs. older, male vs. female, traditional teaching style vs. nontraditional, and student acceptance of the instructor. Future researchers should also explore whether or not the student was able to get their first or second choice of activity and whether it would be helpful to group students by exercise history to more adequately challenge the previously active individuals. Finally, there may have been a ceiling effect in this particular group of students. Participants in this study had fairly positive pretest attitudes (193 on a scale from 50 to 250) that may have effected the outcome.

In summary, students in this study showed a significant improvement in attitude toward physical activity and exercise following completion of the university-required personal wellness course. Both exercise history and gender appeared to have influenced these effects. However, follow-up research is needed to further delineate these and other potential variables that may influence attitudes necessary to increase health-related physical activity.


Dishman, R. K., & Dunn, A. L. (1988). Exercise adherence in children and youth: Implications for adulthood. In R. K. Dishman (Ed), Exercise adherence: Its impact on public health (pp. 155-200). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Dzewaltowski, D. (1994). Physical activity determinants: A social cognitive approach. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 26, 1395-1399.

Ennis, C. D. (1996). Students' experiences in sport-based physical education: (More than) apologies are necessary. Quest, 48, 453-456.

Matthys, J. M., & Lantz, C. D. (1998). The effects of different activity modes on attitudes toward physical activity. Iowa Association of Health Physical Education, Recreation and Dance Journal, 31(2), 24-26.

McPherson, B. D., Paivio, A., Yuhasz, M. S., Rechnitzer, P. A., Pickard, H. A., & Lefcoe, N. M. (1967). Psychological effects of an exercise program for post-infarct and normal adult men. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 7, 95-102.

McPherson, B. D., & Yuhasz, M. S. (1968). An inventory for assessing men's attitudes toward exercise and physical activity. Research Quarterly, 39, 218-220.

Mowatt, M., DePauw, K. E, & Hulac, G. M. (1988). Attitudes toward physical activity among college students. Physical Educator, 45, 103-108.

Nahas, M. V. (1992). Knowledge and attitudes changes of low-fit college students following a short-term fitness education program. Physical Educator. 49, 152-159.

Noland, M. P., & Feldman, R. H. L. (1984). Factors related to the leisure exercise behavior of 'returning' women college students. Health Education 15(2), 32-36.

Portman, P. A. (1995). Who is having fun in physical education classes? Experiences of six-grade students in elementary and middle schools. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 14, 445-453.

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Twellman, A. K., Biggs, C. C., & Lantz, C. D. (2000). The effects of required health education on attitudes toward exercise. Iowa Association of Health Physical Education Recreation and Dance Journal. 33(2), 23-25.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2000). Physical activity and fitness. In Healthy People 2010 [On-line]. Available:
Table 1

Descriptive statistics for ATEPA scores by gender, exercise history,
and year in school

                         Pretest            Posttest

                     Mean      SD       Mean      SD      n

Total              193.17 *   19.00   195.14 *   26.91   1625

  Female           194.54 *   16.60   197.51 *   25.02   1028
  Male             190.80     22.36   191.07     29.47    597
Exercise History
  Inactive         181.48 *   21.41   197.28 *   19.39     29
  Light            186.15 *   17.84   190.70 *   26.48    261
  Moderate         192.18     18.00   193.10     26.11    710
  Heavy            197.06     17.95   198.94     26.66    467
  Vigorous         203.07     19.10   201.51     30.62    136
Year in School
  First            193.58     17.27   194.72     26.60    272
  Second           194.78     17.59   195.28     27.96    606
  Third            192.80 *   19.41   195.93 *   26.00    460
  Fourth           189.73 *   22.46   193.83 *   25.97    277
  Fifth            195.60     10.99   198.00     39.64     10

* Significantly different at p < .01.
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