Determining factors of physical activity and sedentary behaviour in university students during the COVID-19 pandemic: a longitudinal study

Savage, M.J. ORCID: 0000-0003-2922-3681, Magistro, D. ORCID: 0000-0002-2554-3701, Hennis, P.J. ORCID: 0000-0002-8216-998X, Donaldson, J. ORCID: 0000-0003-3230-276X, Healy, L.C. ORCID: 0000-0003-1372-7308, Hunter, K.A. ORCID: 0000-0002-0743-9724 and James, R.M. ORCID: 0000-0002-7119-3159, 2024. Determining factors of physical activity and sedentary behaviour in university students during the COVID-19 pandemic: a longitudinal study. PLOS ONE, 19 (2): e0298134. ISSN 1932-6203

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Introduction: Historically, university students demonstrate poor movement behaviours that could negatively impact current and future health. Recent literature has focused on identifying determinants of physical activity (PA) and sedentary behaviour (SB) in this population to inform the development of intervention strategies. However, the COVID-19 pandemic substantially restricted movement behaviours in this population, meaning findings of previous research may no longer be applicable within the current societal context. The present study explored the longitudinal relationships between pre-pandemic psychological, behavioural and anthropometric factors, and the movement behaviours of UK university students nine months following the outbreak of COVID-19.

Methods: Mental wellbeing (MWB), perceived stress (PS), body mass index (BMI), SB, and PA were assessed using an online self-report survey in 255 students prior to (October 2019) and nine months following (October 2020) the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the UK. Path analysis was utilised to test relationships between pre-COVID mental wellbeing, perceived stress and BMI, and movement behaviours during the pandemic.

Results: The fit of the path analysis model was good (χ2 = 0.01; CMIN = 0.10, CFI = 1.00, RMSEA = 0.00). Pre-covid MWB and PS positively influenced PA (β = 0.29; β = 0.24; P < 0.01) but not SB (β = -0.10; β = 0.00; P = 0.79) during the pandemic. Additionally, pre-pandemic SB and PA positively influenced SB and PA during the pandemic respectively (SB: β = 0.26; P < 0.01) (PA: β = 0.55; P < 0.01). Pre-pandemic BMI did not influence any measured variable during the pandemic (PA: β = 0.03 and P = 0.29; SB: β = 0.06 and P = 0.56), and there was no mediating effect of PA on SB during the pandemic (β = -0.26; P = 0.14).

Conclusion: These findings indicate that pre-covid mental health and movement behaviours had a direct positive influence on PA during the pandemic, but not SB. This longitudinal study demonstrates the influence that prior psychological and behavioural factors have in determining university students’ response to periods of elevated stress and uncertainty, furthering our understanding of determinants of health-related behaviours in students.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: PLOS ONE
Creators: Savage, M.J., Magistro, D., Hennis, P.J., Donaldson, J., Healy, L.C., Hunter, K.A. and James, R.M.
Publisher: Public Library of Science (PLoS)
Date: 23 February 2024
Volume: 19
Number: 2
ISSN: 1932-6203
Rights: ©2024 Savage et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License [], which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Divisions: Schools > School of Science and Technology
Record created by: Laura Ward
Date Added: 20 Mar 2024 10:29
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2024 10:29

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