Young women and smart kids resisting exercise

Young women jogging. | Newsreel
A new study shows that young women are dropping out of regular exercise as they leave school. | Photo: nortonrsx

Women and high academic achievers are dropping out of exercise at above-average rates as they move into adulthood, putting their long-term health at risk.

Research from the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth (LSAY) highlights the challenges of maintaining exercise habits as young people transition to advanced study and work.

The survey, released last week by the University of Adelaide, found young Australians, on average, exercise less regularly every year after leaving high school.

The trend is particularly profound in women, people with low self-efficacy, reluctant exercisers, higher academic achievers, and those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage.

Associate Professor Oliver Schubert from the Adelaide Medical School said there seemed to be a critical period around the age of 15 when longer-term exercise behaviours were formed.

The drop-out of core groups from regular physical activity had potential implications for the long-term health of these groups.

“It is well known that sustained regular exercise in young people improves fitness, physical health, self-esteem, reduces distress and sets up long-term patterns that reduce disease risk in adulthood,” Associate Professor Schubert said.

The researchers were surprised at the link between falling exercise and high academic achievement. They said it highlighted the need to promote a balance between study and self-care to this group.

The researchers say outreach is required at an early stage to encourage the at-risk groups they have identified to develop long-term exercise habits.

“Given the predictors of these patterns are identifiable at age 15, there is a key role for secondary school, especially in the last years, when academic achievements become more central for young people,” Associate Professor Schubert said.

“Equally, universities and vocational training institutions could run programs to support and encourage physical activity and sport.”

The study’s lead Julie Morgan said, while women’s sport was becoming more prominent, other factors were impacting the disproportionate female drop-out rate.

“The disadvantage experienced by females is influenced by reduced opportunity, lower access, and lack of sports diversity, but also divergent parental and cultural expectations, stereotypes, and role models,” Dr Morgan said.

“Psychological factors, such as perceived sports competency and self-efficacy, may play an additional role. Our study highlights that more needs to be done to promote long-term regular of exercise to female adolescents.”

The Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) are a series of nationally representative surveys of young people that follow their transitions from compulsory schooling to post-school education and employment.

More details are available on the University of Adelaide website.