Vigorous physical activity, sports participation, and athletic identity: Implications for mental and physical health in college students

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Nutrition Exercise and Health Sciences

Publication Date



For many individuals the college years are a time of high-risk when they experience the onset of mental or physical health problems. Maintaining adequate levels of vigorous physical activity (VPA) may help to protect against such problems in college and beyond. However, post high school decreases in both organized sports participation and the extent to which individuals identify themselves as an athlete may contribute to many college students engaging in inadequate VPA. It is important to examine whether and why VPA declines when individuals transition from high school to college and how such declines are related to mental and physical health. Participants were 395 college students (286 female and 109 male) at two universities who reported their VPA and sports participation for each year of high school and college and completed several measures assessing their athletic identity and physical and mental health. The participants reported significantly less VPA and sports participation, and a weaker athletic identity in college compared to high school. Those who reported consistent or current engagement in VPA at recommended levels reported better mental and physical health across several variables than their less active peers. The results of this study suggest that college is a time when many individuals cease participating in sports and show a significant decrease in VPA and the extent to which they consider themselves an athlete. Importantly, consistent engagement in VPA may help to protect the mental and physical health of individuals in the college years and beyond.


This article was originally published in Journal of Sport Behavior.

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Journal of Sport Behavior