Perceived benefits and barriers to exercise and levels of physical activity of undergraduate physiotherapy students in the Western Cape

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Background: Physiotherapists have been identified as key role players in health promotion (HP) as well as in the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). As key role players engaged in physical activity (PA) HP who society observe as role models, it is valuable to investigate the health behaviours of physiotherapists and physiotherapy students alike. There is a paucity of evidence on the levels of PA of physiotherapists and physiotherapy students, making it difficult to predict their effectiveness as role models and the effectiveness of HP strategies they use. Aim: The aim of this study is to describe the perceived benefits and barriers to exercise and their association with levels of PA in physiotherapy students (first to fourth year) attending university in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Method: This study follows a quantitative, cross-sectional, survey design. Two hundred and ninety-six participants (median age = 22 years) were recruited from the three universities in the Western Cape (University of Cape Town, University of the Western Cape and University of Stellenbosch). Participants completed a demographic questionnaire (DQ), 43 item exercise benefits and barriers scale (EBBS) and the international physical activity questionnaire short form (IPAQ-short). Results: Female students accounted for 83% of the sample. From the 296 participants, 58% lived off campus and 65% were involved in sporting activities six hours per week. The median score on the EBBS was 136 (54-167) for all years. Responses with the highest agreement for perceived benefits were: (1) Exercise increases my level of physical fitness, (2) Exercise improves functioning of my cardiovascular system and (3) exercise improves the way my body looks. Alternatively, the top three responses for perceived barriers were: (1) exercise tires me, (2) I am fatigued by exercise and (3) Exercise is hard work for me. The IPAQ scores revealed that the majority of students had low PA. Only 37.5% students engaged in high PA. Scores on the EBBS categorised by level of physical activity (low, moderate and high) showed that students with high PA had significantly higher scores on the EBBS than those with moderate and low PA. There were no significant differences between the EBBS scores of students with high, moderate and low PA leves in the first year of study [H (2, N=41) =3.01 p=0.22]. However, students in the second (n=61), third (n=111) and fourth years of study with high PA had significantly better scores on the EBBS than those with low and moderate PA. Conclusion: Undergraduate physiotherapy students in the WC across all three universities do not engage in adequate PA. In this group of students, benefits associated with high PA related to physical performance and barriers associated with low levels of PA related to physical exertion. Clinical relevance: Physiotherapists who do not practice what they preach are not effective role models and may not be effective in obtaining behavior change through PA HP. Global mortality by NCDs is on the rise and physiotherapists need to respond by taking a leadership role. Physiotherapy students should be encouraged to participate in PA as part of their undergraduate training. Methods of promoting PA in this population should take into account the perceived barriers and benefits of this group of students.