University faculty modeling health promoting behaviors: meeting surgeon general's guidelines for physical activity.
Abstract: Careers in academia may foster sedentary lifestyles. The purposes of this study are to assess university faculty members' physical activity (PA), utilization of campus exercise facilities, and perceived barriers to PA. Data were collected from 84 faculty members using an internet based survey instrument. Results indicate the majority of university faculty (71.4%) met the SG guidelines for PA. Faculty who met SG guidelines were less likely to self-report poor health [OR=0.111, p<.01] and barriers to PA [OR=0.314, p<.05]. Faculty members are ideal candidates for worksite health promotion efforts to decrease sedentary lifestyles and overcome barriers to PA.
Subject: Universities and colleges (Health aspects)
Physical fitness (Health aspects)
Social service (Health aspects)
College teachers (Health aspects)
Authors: Smith, Matthew Lee
Chen, Christina M.
McKyer, E. Lisako J.
Pub Date: 09/22/2009
Publication: Name: American Journal of Health Studies Publisher: American Journal of Health Studies Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American Journal of Health Studies ISSN: 1090-0500
Issue: Date: Fall, 2009 Source Volume: 24 Source Issue: 4
Product: Product Code: 8220000 Colleges & Universities; 9105130 Social Service Support Programs NAICS Code: 61131 Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools; 92313 Administration of Human Resource Programs (except Education, Public Health, and Veterans' Affairs Programs) SIC Code: 8221 Colleges and universities
Accession Number: 307670890

Studies have shown endless benefits to engaging in regular physical activity (PA). Regular physical activity reduces rates of mortality from coronary heart disease; decreases the risk for stroke, colon cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure; and contributes to healthy bones, muscles, joints, and weight (Kelsey et al., 2006; United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). To combat sedentary lifestyles and related sequelae, the U.S. Surgeon General (SG) has recommended guidelines for minimal levels of moderate and vigorous PA for adults to optimize health (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). Most recently published in Health People 2010, these guidelines recommend adults to engage in either moderate-intensity or vigorous-intensity physical activities for at least 30 minutes most days of the week (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2002). In 2005, only 48.1% of adults in the United States met SG guidelines; 37.7% participated in insufficient levels of physical activities and 14.2% were inactive (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007).

A myriad of factors hinder and deter individuals from adhering to SG guidelines for physical activity. Researchers have identified the three leading barriers to engaging in PA to be (1) lack of motivation, desire, and commitment; (2) lack of time; and (3) lack of knowledge of associated health benefits (Steinfelt & Allen, 1997). Residential and vocational distances from exercise facilities has been acknowledged as potential environmental determinants of physical activity levels, and close proximity to exercise facilities may reduce psychological and physical barriers to PA (Dishman, 1994; King et al., 1995; Sallis & Owen, 1999). More research is needed to determine barriers contributing to the reluctance of individuals in close proximity to exercise facilities to meet recommended levels of PA.

Despite efforts to increase PA within worksites (Chang, 2003; Kelsey et al., 2006; McGorry & Courtney, 2006), university settings and those in academia have been overlooked and understudied. Reliance on technology and the demand to publish may place university faculty at higher risk for sedentary lifestyles and associated health ramifications. Although higher levels of education are associated with higher levels of physical activity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000), it is unreasonable to expect academicians at institutions of higher learning to meet SG recommendations because of their reliance on computer technology. While associations between educational achievement and PA levels are generally positive, these associations may vary among subgroups of the highly educated (and, indeed, may be curvilinear in some contexts).

Every workplace has a unique ecology and set of factors influencing employee health (Allen & Allen, 1985). While university faculty members have access to state-of-the-art on-site fitness facilities on campus, it is unclear whether these facilities promote PA. Despite proximity to campus fitness facilities, university faculty members' perceived barriers to exercise may impede their ability to meet recommended levels of PA and lead to the underutilization of campus fitness facilities.

The purposes of this study are to investigate (1) university faculty exercise rates in accordance with SG guidelines; (2) the perceived barriers that deter faculty from regular physical activity and use of campus recreation centers; (3) faculty members' desire to exercise more frequently compared with their current level of physical activity; (4) factors contributing to faculty members' engagement in moderate or physical activity.



Participants were surveyed using an internet-based questionnaire consisting of twenty-one (21) items. A combination of checkboxes, Likert-type scales, and open-ended instrument items were utilized. The instrument was designed using a modified version of the Health Belief Model, with special emphasis placed on perceived barriers and perceived control constructs. This widely used conceptual framework theorizes about constructs' contributions on sociodemographic factors as they relate to health behavior and behavior change (Hochbaum, 1958). Participants took approximately five minutes to complete the survey instrument.

This study included three types of measures: personal characteristics; participant perceptions, and self-reported behavior variables. Personal characteristics of participants used in this study were age (i.e., treated as a continuous variable based on the participant's reported age in years), sex (i.e., dummy variable scored 0 if female, 1 if male); and number of years worked at the university (i.e., treated as a continuous variable based on the participant's reported number of years worked). Participant perceptions variables utilized in this study were self-reported health status (i.e., 5-point Likert-type scale scored 1 if the participant strongly agreed they were in good physical health, 5 if they strongly disagreed) and the number of perceived barriers to PA (i.e., treated as a continuous variable based on the number of participant's reported number of perceived barriers to PA). Self-reported behavior variables included engaged in moderate PA (i.e., dummy variable scored 0 if the participant had not engaged in moderate PA 5 days a week for at least 30 minutes each session, 1 if the participant had engaged in moderate PA 5 days a week for at least 30 minutes each session), engaged in vigorous PA (i.e., dummy variable scored 0 if the participant had not engaged in vigorous PA 5 days a week for at least 30 minutes each session, 1 if the participant had engaged in vigorous PA 5 days a week for at least 30 minutes each session), and the desire to engage in more PA (i.e., dummy variable scored 1 if the participant reported wanting to engage in more PA than their current level, 0 if they did not want to engage in more PA than their current level).


Data were collected from a sample of 84 faculty members on a small Southwestern university using internet-based data collection methods. Researchers obtained Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval and informed consent from all respondents. Participants were recruited via electronic mail (email). Researchers disseminated e-mails to university department heads requesting they forward the message to all faculty members within their respective departments. Additionally, an invitation to participate in the study was posted on the university faculty website and distributed via a general faculty listserv. The text of the recruitment e-mail provided the URL address where the Internet-based survey was hosted. One follow-up recruitment email was sent to department heads and faculty members one week after the initial recruitment email was disseminated. Data were collected over a three week period. Participation in this study was voluntary, and participants could withdraw from the study at any time. No identifying information was collected from participants, and no incentives were provided to respondents for participating in the study.


Survey data were analyzed using SPSS Statistical Software (version 16.0). Exploratory analyses were performed to examine missing data patterns. No unusual patterns emerged. Only respondents with complete data were included in the analyses (n=84). Alpha was set at 0.05 to determine statistical significance. Descriptive analyses were performed to obtain frequencies of participants' responses. Bivariate correlations were computed for variables of interest. Logistic regression analysis was used to explain the contribution of differences in faculty characteristics on the dependent variable of interest (i.e., meeting SG guidelines for physical activity).


To distinguish between faculty members who engaged in PA consistent with SG guidelines, respondents were dichotomized into two groups: (1) those engaging in either moderate or vigorous PA for thirty minutes five times a week (Met Group), and (2) those not engaging in moderate or vigorous PA for thirty minutes five times a week (Unmet Group).



Of the 538 faculty members employed by the university at the time of survey recruitment, approximately sixteen percent completed the instrument (n=84). The majority of participants were male (71.1%). The ages of faculty respondents ranged from 27 to 88 years (M=47.43, SD [+ or -] 12.756). Participants' number of years worked at the university ranged from 1 to 59 years (M=14.11, SD [+ or -] 13.219). Participants represented six distinct schools of discipline including architecture (8.3%), engineering (9.5%), humanities (17.9%), music (2.4%), natural sciences (42.9%), and social sciences (19.1%).


Results indicate that 71.4% of respondents met SG guidelines for either moderate or vigorous PA and 35.7% met recommendations for both moderate and vigorous PA. Among the 60 participants in the Met Group, 53.1% (n=14) engaged in moderate-intensity PA and 58.8% (n=47) engaged vigorous-intensity PA. Among the university faculty who engaged in vigorous PA in accordance with SG guidelines, 66.7% also engaged in Moderate PA in accordance with SG guidelines. Table 1 provides PA rates of the current sample and national rates using data collected via the 2005 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Rates of university faculty meeting SG guidelines for moderate-intensity PA were representative of national rates; however, rates of university faculty meeting SG guidelines for vigorous-intensity PA exceeded those of national rates.


Participants were asked to identify reasons for not engaging in more PA. Results indicate university faculty perceived primary barriers to engaging in PA to be time constraints (90.2%), lack of interest in exercise (13.4%), and lack of knowledge to design adequate PA routines (6.1%). Analyses revealed differences in the distribution of identified barriers by group. A greater proportion of Unmet Group faculty endorsed barriers than those in the Met Group. Table 2 provides detailed distributions of endorsed barriers to physical activity among Unmet and Met Group faculty.


Approximately 30% of participants reported having ever used the campus exercise/recreation facility (CERF), and 37.0% reported currently using the campus facility in their PA routine. Almost 20% of respondents reported the desire to use the CERF more frequently. Over half of Met Group faculty (51.7%) reported utilizing the CERF one or more times per week, compared to 20.8% of Unmet Group participants. More than three times as many of the Met Group faculty (71.0%) used the CERF in the past but are not incorporating it into their regular PA routines, compared to 19.3% of Unmet Group faculty. Almost one-third of Met Group faculty (31.7%) reported utilizing off-campus (non-home) facilities, and 53.3% reported using exercise equipment in their homes. In contrast, 21.0% of Unmet Group faculty reported exercising in facilities located off-campus, and 21.8% reported exercising using equipment available within their home.

A series of questions asked university faculty to identify specific barriers pertaining to their utilization of the CERF. Participants were asked to endorse options indicating barriers specific to more frequent use of the CERF. Overall, time constraints were identified as the most common barrier to increased use of the CERF, endorsed by 52.4% of participants. A greater proportion of Met Group faculty reported barriers to using the CERF than those in the Unmet Group. While 31.4% of Met Group faculty considered their own time constraints as a barrier to increased utilization of the CERF, only 12.6% of the Unmet Group perceived this as a barrier. Approximately 21% of Unmet Group respondents indicated receiving more information about the CERF would increase their frequency facility use. Table 3 provides detailed distributions of endorsed barriers to CERF use among Unmet and Met Group faculty.


Respondents were asked to self-assess their health (i.e., do they consider themselves in good health?). Overall, 83.3% self-identified as being in good health. Among faculty participants in the Met Group, 95.0% reported themselves to be in good health. A smaller proportion of Unmet Group faculty respondents (54.2%) self-identified as being in good health. Descriptive analyses revealed 72.0% of all respondents would prefer to engage in PA rates higher than their current PA rates. Approximately 67% of the Met Group faculty reported preferences to engage in PA rates higher than their current rates compared to 83.3% of their Unmet Group faculty counterparts.


Bivariate correlations were calculated to investigate mutually exclusive relationships between variables of interest. Engaging in moderate-intensity PA was positively correlated with respondents' age (r=0.327) and negatively correlated with considering one's self to be in poor physical health (r=-0.404) and desire to engage in higher rates of PA (r=-0.327). Engaging in vigorous-intensity PA was positively correlated with engaging in moderate-intensity PA (r=0.397) and negatively correlated with considering one's self to be in poor physical health (r=-0.487). Table 4 provides correlations between these and other variables of interest.


This logistic regression model has a Nagelkerke R-square of 0.510. Unmet Group faculty were more likely than Met Group faculty to prefer engaging in PA rates higher than their current PA rates [OR=0.094, p<.05] and have more barriers to PA [OR=0.314, p<.05]. Unmet Group faculty were also less likely to report considering themselves to be in good physical health [OR=0.111, p<.01]. These and other predictors are presented in the model in Table 5.


Levels of PA increase alongside an individuals level of education (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000). Although engaging in vigorous-intensity PA at levels higher than the average American, not all university faculty met SG recommendations. University faculty perceived barriers that hinder them from reaching self-reported levels of desired physical activity. Despite high rates of physical activity among the majority of examined university faculty, faculty members not meeting SG guidelines may be more susceptible to morbidity associated with sedentary behavior as attributed to vocational obligation.

Although this preliminary study was not designed to comprehensively investigate the ecological, sociodemographic, or psychological factors contributing to PA rates and associated barriers, its findings are important because they address gaps in the existing literature pertaining to university faculty health. As indicated by participants of this study, time constraints preventing PA was a major barrier for both respondent groups. This finding is noteworthy because it affords program planners with an opportunity to better meet the needs of their constituents by directly addressing time constraints as a potential barrier. Approximately 20% of faculty members who did not meet the recommended PA levels reported a lack of interest in PA. Interestingly, approximately 4 out of 5 faculty members who currently do not engage in the recommended levels of PA would like to engage in higher levels. This emphasizes the desire to engage in PA and highlights the need for health education interventions to assist these individuals achieve their desired results. Targeted interventions could possibly address this aspect by teaching PA options suitable for individuals within all exercise levels.

The differences between groups in terms of their utilization of CERF emphasize the role and potential of these facilities in regular PA routines among faculty. Clearly the CERF are valued by those who regularly participate in PA. Faculty members' access to CERF may facilitate and promote habitual and regular PA, such as seen among faculty in the Met Group. For example, fewer faculty members of the Met Group reported having time constraints as a barrier. Since 4 out of 5 faculty members desire to engage in more PA, and roughly 4 out of 5 faculty members reported having time constraints that prevented higher levels of PA, the CERF may be a plausible tool to foster increased PA.

Findings of this study identified characteristics related to university faculty adherence to Surgeon General's guidelines for physical activity and self-identified barriers to general exercise and use of campus exercise/recreation facilities. Despite studies investigating PA within the workplace and educational settings, the university faculty population requires more investigation. These findings may serve as a platform to stimulate future research efforts examining this population.


The major limitation to this study was the low response rate of faculty member participants. Faculty participation in this study may have been impacted by the department heads' decision not to forward the e-mail message to their respective faculty members. This decision may have resulted in part of personal biases or perceptions regarding the importance of the research. Similarly, participant response rates may have been biased based on their perceptions of the importance of the research and/or their current PA level. No information was collected regarding reasons potential respondents declined to participate in the study.

This study utilized self-report data from a sample of faculty members from a private Southwestern university. As with all self-report data, reported levels of health and PA may not be completely representative of this faculty population (or other faculty populations). Generalizations of these findings should be made with caution. Further investigation is needed to determine if reported levels of physical activity and perceived barriers to exercise are representative of other faculty members.


The workplace culture in university settings may allow for the integration of technology to overcome barriers associated with lack of time and low levels of interest. To increase PA among university faculty, computer-based exercise programs may be offered in the privacy of one's personal office. The integration of technology may be sufficient to supplement or replace the use of traditional physical activity facilities. Changes made to university policy changes, CERF recruitment strategies and structure, and computer based. exercise regimens may increase PA among university faculty.

Policy has been shown to be an effective means to change behavior. Depending upon existing university-wide or departmental regulations, campus policies may require modification to ensure faculty members are allotted sufficient time to exercise. Examples of policy change to promote physical activity among faculty may include mandating personal health hours (much like hosting office hours for students) at least once a day, allowing flex-time, hosting "walking" or "cycling" meetings, or transforming traditional workstations into standing workstations.

To increase faculty patronage to CERF, adjustments to recruitment strategies may be warranted.

Using electronic recruitment on campus websites and email listserv may be beneficial to reach this technologically-savvy population. Electronic recruitment may show promise to increase interest in PA with the provision of awareness-raising information, statistics, and facility-tailored course offerings. Incentives may be provided by university campuses, schools, departments, and/or divisions to promote healthy lifestyle choices. To ensure each newly hired faculty member is aware of the offerings provided by the CERF, relevant information should be included during mandatory orientation sessions.


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McGorry, R. W., & Courtney, T. K. (2006). Worksite Exercise Programs. Professional Safety. Retrieved online November 1, 2006 on

Sallis, J. F., & Owen, N. (1999). Physical activity and behavioral medicine. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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Matthew Lee Smith, PhD, MPH, CHES, CPP, is affiliated with Department of Social & Behavioral Health, School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center. Christina M. Chen, MS, is affiliated with Northwestern University. E. Lisako J. McKyer, PhD, MPH, is affiliated with Texas A&M University. Please address all correspondence to: Matthew Lee Smith, Department of Social & Behavioral Health, School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center, 1266 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843, Tel: 979.845.5788, Fax: 979.862.8371,
Table 1. Comparisons of physical activity by percent

               Study Sample   National   College Grads

Moderate PA    53.1%          48.7%      53.1%
Vigorous PA    58.8%          27.4%      33.0%

Table 2. The percentage of barriers to PA
among university faculty

Barriers              Overall    Unmet    Met

Time                  90.2%      95.8%    87.9%
Health Reasons        6.1%       4.2%     6.9%
Lack of Knowledge     9.8%       16.7%    8.6%
Low Rewards           3.7%       8.3%     1.7%
Lack of Interest      13.4%      20.8%    10.3%
Other                 9.8%       4.2%     12.1%

Table 3. The percentage of barriers to PA at
the CERF among university faculty

Barriers                       Overall      Unmet    Met

Time                           52.4%        12.6%    31.4%
Other                          33.0%        20.8%    38.3%
Students                       17.9%         4.2%    23.3%
CERF Hours                     15.5%        12.5%    16.7%
Activities Offered             14.3%        16.7%    13.3%
FA Schedule                    13.1%         8.3%    15.0%
Few Cardiovascular Machines     9.5%         8.3%    10.0%
Distance                        4.8%         4.2%     5.0%
Few Free Weights                3.6%         0.0%     5.0%
Few Weight Machines             3.6%         0.0%     5.0%

Table 4. Correlations among variables of interest

      1         2         3           4         5         6

1     1       0.123     0.903 **   -0.156    -0.086    -0.104
2               1       0.137       0.159    -0.166    -0.038
3                         1        -0.161    -0.068    -0.154
4                                     1      -0.022     0.087
5                                               1      -0.166
6                                                         1

           7            8

1        0.327 **      0.074
2        0.045        -0.164
3        0.335 **      0.011
4       -0.404 **     -0.487 **
5       -0.09         -0.145
6       -0.327 **      0.087
7          1           0.397 **
8                        1

1= Age
2= Sex
3= Years Worked
4= Self-Reported Health
5= Number of Barriers to Physical Activity
6= Desire for More Physical Activity
7= Engage in Moderage Physical Activity
8= Engage in Vigorous Physical Activity

p<.05 *, p<0.01 **

Table 5. Logistic regression analysis predicting physical activity

                                                        95% CI

               B        S.E.       P         OR     Lower    Upper

Age          0.039     0.030     0.187     1.040    0.981    1.102
Sex          -1.137    0.886     0.199     0.321    0.056    1.821
Health       -2.200    0.639     0.001     0.111    0.032    0.388
Number of    -1.158    0.550     0.035     0.314    0.107    0.923
Want More    -2.364    1.116     0.034     0.094    0.011    0.839
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