Date of Award


Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (Research)


Social & General Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Áine de Róiste

Second Advisor

Con Burns


Currently, there is a dearth of research investigating physical activity patterns among Irish third level young adults (17-22 year olds). Both national and international research report that levels of physical activity decline in adolescence, this trend being most pronounced among females. Various biological, psychological, social, and environmental determinants have been found to influence physical activity; however, specific factors associated with the decline in activity during adolescence remain largely unknown. This research study examines participation and determinants of physical activity among Irish third level students.

A “National questionnaire” was administered to a sample of 532 students from Health Education Authority (HEA) recognized third level institutes aimed at representing student physical activity throughout a wide geographical area in the Republic of Ireland. The sample was stratified by types of HEA colleges (e.g. Universities, Institutes of Technology, Other HEA recognized Institutions) and by Departments (e.g. Business, Science, Social Science, Engineering, Humanities). This questionnaire aimed to examine participation and determinants of physical activity among third level students. In conjunction, interviews (n=16) were carried out to further explore the factors promoting or inhibiting attitudes towards and engagement in physical activity. It was found that 37.8% of students participated in regular organized physical activity / sport, while 66.5% engaged in unorganized physical activity. Males reported participating in significantly more organized physical activity / sport (m= 57.8%, f= 21.5%\ p< .001), while females participated more in unorganized physical activity (f= 74%, m= 56.8%; p< .001). Intrinsic motivation factors, such as fun / enjoyment; fitness; competition; and interest, were found to be primary determinants of physical activity.

Based on the findings of the National survey and the interview study, in conjunction with Prochaska and Diclemente’s (1984) trans-theoretical model of behavioural change, a Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) study (n= 238) was undertaken. This study used a questionnaire to investigate influences of and opportunities for physical activity within CIT amongst first year students. Since beginning in CIT, 31% of participants increased levels of physical activity, 21% were found to decrease participation, while almost half (46%) remained the same. Peer support was found to be a key factor in joining and maintaining physical activity; therefore, should be incorporated into physical activity promotional programs in third level.

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