College Physical Activity Classes

Should colleges require students to take physical activity classes?

By Shirley Archer, JD, MA
Feb 11, 2019

Findings from a recent study may lead to more opportunities for fitness professionals to teach at college campuses. Evidence suggests that requiring physical activity classes in college encourages sedentary students to become more active, while elective classes simply support those who are already active.

“When there is no requirement, but the courses are available as electives, the students who take the courses tend to be those who are already active and motivated,” said study author Brad Cardinal, PhD, kinesiology professor at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

Cardinal and others compared exercise motivation, competence and activity levels among 953 students at two separate universities—one that required physical activity classes and one that did not. “We found that those [students] who are unmotivated may not be too happy about the requirement initially, but some of them actually cross over and become more motivated to continue with the physical activity,” said Cardinal.

At OSU, students are required to take an academic course on lifetime fitness for health along with a physical activity course focusing on skill acquisition, skill development and fun—with courses like Zumba® and adventure sports among the choices.

“If we’re offering programs to everyone,” said Cardinal, “then everyone has the opportunity to learn about the potential benefits of physical activity.” He noted that this contributes to a lifelong habit of more activity and offered fitness professionals a suggestion for getting more involved: “Speak out in favor of the idea. Healthy graduates will be looking for quality programs and professionals to join post-graduation. It is a win-win-win situation.”

The study is available in the Journal of American College Health (2018; doi:10.1080/07448481.2018.1469501).


Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is the 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and is IDEA's mind-body-spirit spokesperson. She is a certified yoga and Pilates teacher and an award-winning author based in Los Angeles, California, and Zurich, Switzerland. Two of her books, The Walking Deck and The Strength and Toning Deck, are now featured as iPhone apps. Contact her at

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