Physical Activity Styles of New York City Adolescents


By Catherine Casado-Pabon, Jacob Borkowski, and Anthony Alvarez, Health Professions Mentorship Program Leaders, CUNY School of Medicine

The Health Professions Mentorship Program (HPMP) is an exciting two-year curriculum designed for rising high school juniors and seniors considering careers in healthcare. As part of the 2017 HPMP summer programming, the students were asked to provide insight into physical activity behaviors and preferences. To inform their response, they interviewed other adolescents to gain wider perspectives on physical activity. Their interviews involved questions regarding preferred physical activity types and settings, attitudes, motivations and barriers to being physically active, and methods of obtaining information on physical activity. The HPMP students also strategized ways to improve adolescent awareness of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. In this post, we summarize the results of these interviews and describe a sample program that the HPMP students developed based on these results.

Health Professions Mentorship Program 2017 Participants

Physical Activity Styles

The adolescent interviewees represent a broad spectrum of activity participation, falling into three main categories: non-active, active during their free time, or sports/athletic participants. Walkers and gym-goers are examples of those included in the free time category.

Barriers, Motivations, and Attitudes

The highest ranked barriers to physical activity among the interviewees were lack of motivation, school time, and homework. The interviewees ranked physical appearance, stress relief, and the “feeling of being active” as their motivations to become physically active, with physical appearance being their top priority. The majority of interviewees had positive attitudes towards physical activity. They considered physical activity to be an important and enjoyable way to relieve stress and be active.

Types and Settings

The interviewees preferred learning about the value and importance of physical activity at school and through social media. They preferred working out at the gym and walking, with weight lifting being their overall favorite activity. The highest ranked settings were schools, homes, parks, and local gyms.

Communicating the Physical Activity Guidelines to Adolescents

Strategies and Awareness

Most of the interviewees reported that they access information about physical activity predominantly via social media, such as YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. These social media outlets provide adolescents with health information, tutorial-type exercise videos, and advertisements for physical activity-related products and events.

Recognizing social media’s powerful influence, the students discussed strategies for promoting awareness of the Physical Activity Guidelines and physical activity as a whole. These strategies relied heavily on social media advertisements in the form of informative videos and pictures. The HPMP students also discussed harnessing the power of their local communities and school sports teams as a strategy to encourage physical activity. The students felt that inclusive physical activity-based social events have the potential to create a lasting, positive impact on adolescent perception of physical activity.

Helping Adolescents Meet the Guidelines

The HPMP students designed a sample program with the goal of enhancing adolescent knowledge and understanding of the Guidelines, as well as the health benefits of physical activity. This program would involve forming a club in participating high schools that would then develop and manage a week-long series of fun, safe, and inclusive physical activities. The program would aim to engage the entire student body and promote student ownership via participation in the club. To incorporate social media, the club members would design and construct a mobile phone app to communicate with the student body throughout the week. Students’ use of the app would enable collection and incorporation of their feedback into the physical activity week’s design and delivery.

This proposed program provides an example of a strategy to promote adolescent awareness of the importance of physical activity and wellness, while simultaneously providing an appropriate schedule and venue for students to be active in a social setting. The students would have a say in every aspect of the project, from the creation of the app to the activities included. Ultimately this program’s aim is to build student empowerment and action by affording them the time, space, and knowledge to reclaim and own their health and bodies. We hope students will act as their own catalysts, creating substantial change in how they learn and experience their world.

The HPMP students enjoyed their time exploring the Physical Activity Guidelines, their peers’ experiences, and the benefits of being physically active. This project boosted their motivation to be physically active and share their new-found knowledge with their family and friends.

Spread the Word! Share this post with your network using this sample tweet: Want a teen’s thoughts on physical activity? Check out the new BAYW post: #HPMP students explored teen perspectives on #PhysicalActivity and the #PAGuidelines!