This study focused on exploring the relationship between perceived PL and PA levels and investigating which factor related to such a relationship. Thus far, few studies have examined the relationship between PA and the six dimensions of PL when discussing such a topic. According to Whitehead, there are six components of PL to understand and enhance lifelong PA:1) Motivation, 2) Confidence and physical competence and 3) Interaction with the environment. 4) Sense of self and self-confidence, 5) Self-expression and communication with others and 6) Knowledge and understanding . Many studies have not comprehensively studied the association between PA and PL due to the lack of investigation instrument. PPLI, an instrument that can quantify perceived PL, was thus invented to help solve the issue. The team who invented it first used the instrument to test the relationship between perceived PL and PA levels amongst Hong Kong adolescents . Due to various cultural factors, the current study used the PPLI-SC version to test whether there exists any association between PL and PA amongst Chinese undergraduates.
Relationship between PL and PA of undergraduates in Mainland China
Nearly half of the research claimed that PL is the core of PA, and individuals would not engage in PA if they have low PL . According to such general research, PL will show a strong correlation with PA. However, the result of the current study has shown that they have a significant but relatively low correlation. Although such result was inconsistent with most of the previous literature, it showed a high consistency with past explorations into Hong Kong adolescents . Such a low positive correlation indicates that when the concept of PL has not been fully integrated into the PE courses, students may not have much sense of PL even if some of them have a high level of PA.
This study conducted multiple regression analysis and used three dimensions of PL as predictive factors to test the PA level among Chinese undergraduates. Through enhancing the dimension of motivation, students could find more interest in participating in PA and will more likely maintain this positive attitude towards PA throughout their whole lives. From developing the dimensions of confidence and physical competence, students will move their bodies with elegance and balance which, in turn, will enhance their confidence to engage in more PA. Then, by increasing the opportunities to interact with the environment, students could build more self-confidence, which will further encourage them to engage in PA again. As PE courses are the main way for Chinese undergraduates to get involved in PA, the concept of PL should be integrated into PE courses to improve their PL. With a greater understanding of the concept of PL, students will place more value on PA and will more likely engage in it.
Relationship between perceived PL and various factors of PA level
Exploring the relationship between perceived PL and PA levels can help find effective ways to improve the PA level of Chinese undergraduates. Based on the PPLI-SC and IPAQ-SC, this study conducted an analysis of the association between perceived PL and various relevant factors of PA level. According to the health recommendations of the WHO, individuals should participate in PA, including moderate and vigorous PA, for at least 60 minutes a day . Undergraduates who met the conditions were selected to conduct an analysis of their perceived PL and PA levels. The results showed that almost all factors of PA (transportation, walking, housework, etc.) have an impact on PL and its three dimensions. However, being sedentary had no effect on PL.
As previously stated, a certain amount of PA is required to achieve the health standard, but the length of PE courses in the universities of Mainland China is often insufficient to meet this requirement. Moreover, most of the students tend to engage in slightly moderate or vigorous PA. Therefore, this situation results in a relatively low correlation between perceived PL and PA levels (r = 0.254). Indeed, PE courses are the main way for most students to participate in daily PA. However, the PE course is not the only factor related to PL; other forms of PA like walking, transportation and housework can also increase the core attributes of PL. Such forms of PA in daily life are also vital for understanding the intrinsic value of PL.
Among these various activities, PA in the leisure time has the highest correlation with PL. Thus, in recreational activities, the attribute of free choice of PA can awaken individuals’ interest, and this attribute also has the highest performance (r = 0.291). While freely choosing PA, individuals can actively integrate into the natural environment and interact with it. Through cooperation with people and responding to different obstacles, another core attribute in PL, interaction with the environment, can be effectively improved. This dimension also shows a relatively high correlation in the relationship between PL and PA in leisure time (r = 0.283). In terms of the intensity of PA, vigorous activity is more significantly relevant than moderate activity as the former can better awaken the physical ability and enhance individual confidence (r = 0.234). Additionally, vigorous activity can better stimulate interest of participants in PA (r = 0.274). There is no correlation between sedentary activities and PL. Nowadays, sedentary activities, such as reading, homework and playing video games, occupy most of the students’ daily lives, which is the main reason why Chinese undergraduates have a low PA level. Thus, solely depending on PE courses to improve students’ PL is not enough. Rather, students’ activity behaviours in their daily lives must be changed to enhance their PA level, ultimately improving their health.
Individual factors on the relationship between PL and PA
Previous studies have reported that gender, physical status, academic achievement and SES of students are factors that need to be considered in the relationship between PL and PA [24, 29, 40]. Worldwide, males are generally more active than females; thus, more women suffer from physical inactivity than men in nearly every country . Compared to males, females are more likely give up PA in their early lifetime. Without compulsory participation in PE courses, females are more inclined to choose not to exercise, thereby hindering the progress of PL. Thus, PE courses must be redesigned by focusing on students’ preference in which PA to do, confidence in themselves and interactions with others . The PA habit they develop while in campus will heighten their sense of responsibility to engage in lifelong PA. In addition, a study showed no significant difference between perceived PL and PA levels in males and females, although they prefer different intensities of PA . In other words, all genders improved their PL during PA.
Body management is considered to be one of key factors that can affect individuals’ PL [32, 43, 44]. Whole body movement, such as balancing and jumping, requires good physical status. Individuals who are healthy and fit will complete such activity easier than obese or emaciated people. From the study, we can see that students with a normal body size will more likely engage in vigorous PA and, surprisingly, so do the obese students. In 2019, China Youth Daily reported that China University Media United launched a survey to investigate the willingness of Chinese undergraduates to lose weight. The results showed that 72.73% of the respondents were not satisfied with their body mass and 77.78% of them planned to lose weight. However, nearly 90% of them failed to achieve this goal halfway . Compared with thin students, obese students are more motivated to participate in PA, even if they face difficulties. Therefore, the concept of PL should be integrated into students’ daily lives to awaken their motivation to participate in PA, to value it as a life-long habit and thereby keep engaging in it. Along with gender, the difference in body mass does not show significant difference between perceived PL and PA levels. Although some of them may lack motivation to start the PA journey, they will still improve their PL once they do.
Meanwhile, academic achievement has been found to have a positive relationship with PA level [40, 46, 47]. However, in this study, we found a different answer. As the GPAs of Chinese undergraduates increase, their willingness to participate in PA declines. For those who achieved GPA higher than 4, the PA level was too low to be associated with perceived PL. This may be due to the situation wherein most teachers in Mainland China emphasize the importance of sedentary learning and examination. Thus, from 1991 to 2006, the PA level of Chinese adults fell by 32% . Although the national government implemented various policies and set a high requirement for PE courses [20, 21], participation in PA outside of school was almost non-existent as Chinese adolescents were under pressure to obtain academic achievement . In such a situation, it is not enough to simply use PE courses to enhance students’ PA and PL levels. Rather, students must be encouraged to engage in PA outside of class, especially during leisure time, which is the best way to improve their PL and PA.
Previous studies have found that the students' SES is positively related to their PA level [50, 51]. Students from families with higher SES are more likely to join each PA and to keep them as a lifetime pattern as their families can support them better in their material and educational needs . The results of the current study showed that, in Mainland China, as the families’ SES increases, the PA level of students also improves. Moreover, the PA level of children from high-income families far exceeds that of children from low- and mid-income families; this is because the latter are less likely to participate in PA during their leisure time .