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Pan, M.;  Ying, B.;  Lai, Y.;  Kuan, G. Physical Exercise among College Students in China. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 20 April 2024).
Pan M,  Ying B,  Lai Y,  Kuan G. Physical Exercise among College Students in China. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 20, 2024.
Pan, Mingzhu, Binbin Ying, Yani Lai, Garry Kuan. "Physical Exercise among College Students in China" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 20, 2024).
Pan, M.,  Ying, B.,  Lai, Y., & Kuan, G. (2022, November 08). Physical Exercise among College Students in China. In Encyclopedia.
Pan, Mingzhu, et al. "Physical Exercise among College Students in China." Encyclopedia. Web. 08 November, 2022.
Physical Exercise among College Students in China

The status of the physical exercise of college students has been a popular topic in China. It has been established that adults engaging in regular physical activity will improve their health. For college students, maintaining good exercise habits can effectively reduce their risk of chronic diseases. Moreover, the academic years are the optimum time for university students to learn the fundamentals of exercise, form the proper participation habits in sports, and cultivate a lifelong sports consciousness.

physical activity factors status college students Chinese systematic review

1. Introduction

With rapid social and economic development, people’s awareness of health is increasing. The ‘Healthy China 2030 plan’, which was proposed in 2016, advocates for increasing young people’s passion in sport, ensuring that schoolchildren engage in more than an hour of physical activity daily and the youth become proficient in more than one motor skill [1]. The program, which offers a sound theoretical foundation for student health, specifies that school students should engage in moderate-intensity physical activity more than three times per week and that the national criteria for student physical fitness should be at least 25% excellent. Meanwhile, it has been five years since the Healthy China plan was officially proposed and implemented. Therefore, this entry takes this context as an entry point to explore the physical activity status of Chinese university students during this five-year period.
University is the last stage of physical education for students, and how they exercise there has a big impact on whether or not they developed a lifelong interest in sports. University students are generally between the ages of 18 and 23 [2]. Psychologically, they are essentially adults with their own perspectives and thinking. All physical functions have reached their peak in adulthood, and physical abilities like endurance, speed, and explosive power have increased [3]. Meanwhile, it has been proven that exercise can reduce poor mental health, self-harm, and suicidal attempts [4]. In addition, risks for depression, type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and other illness are linked to physical inactivity [5]. Therefore, the strategies needed to promote physical activity have become an important public health approach for the prevention of chronic diseases. It has been established that adults engaging in regular physical activity will improve their health [6]. Thus, for college students, maintaining good exercise habits can effectively reduce their risk of chronic diseases. Moreover, the academic years are the optimum time for university students to learn the fundamentals of exercise, form the proper participation habits in sports, and cultivate a lifelong sports consciousness.
However, several recent National Youth Physical Fitness Reports showed that the overall physical fitness of college students in China is on a downward trend [7]. The main manifestations are that the students’ amount of exercise decreases year by year, the obesity rate occurs and develops rapidly, the height, body weight, and chest circumference of students increase rapidly, but the lungs capacity and strength quality continue to decline [8]. Meanwhile, college students’ subjectivity is neglected during the process of physical education, and multiple factors cause the lack of awareness of the importance of exercise among university students [9]. Based on this circumstance, it has become an important part of our education to improve and increase university students’ interest towards participating in sports, improve their enthusiasm to participate in sports, increase their awareness to exercise on their own, and enhance their physical fitness.

2. Exercise Status of College Students in China

Exercise motivation: Researchers found that the primary factor in university students’ motivation to exercise was to improve their physical fitness, which is in line with the results of the National Sports Administration’s National Fitness Survey [10]. Among the 15 articles, 14 showed that physical exercise strengthens the body, followed by relieving academic pressure.
Exercise frequency: The General Administration of Sports of China, in its analysis of the “Survey Communique on the Status of National Fitness Activities in 2020”, concluded that the average physical activity population in China is 37.2 %. In this entry, physical activity was measured as exercise ≧ three times/week, and the percentage of physical activity among university students was found to be ≧ 37.2% in 10 out of 15 papers, which reached the national average [10].
Exercise duration: Among the 15 articles, eight papers showed that university students’ physical exercise lasted for ≧30 min per exercise session, which met the standard criteria for physical exercise length [10].
Exercise program: University students’ most popular exercise activities were mainly running and walking, followed by ball games. There were differences by gender and by grade. Li et al. [11] found that 74.58% of university students mainly participate in aerobic exercise and endurance sports, with a higher proportion of runners, accounting for 79.16%. This indicates that running is still a popular sport among university students. Ai [12], Cao and Zhao [13], and Qin [14] revealed that running was the most popular sport among university students, followed by basketball.
Exercise site: The most popular exercise areas for university students were the public sports grounds, athletic fields, and basketball courts. Eleven of the fifteen papers indicated that the most popular sites for exercise were athletic fields, basketball courts, and finally gymnasiums. Hence, it can be concluded that the most popular places for exercise are the public sports grounds on campus.
Group or individual: According to the study’s findings, nine out of fifteen papers indicated that college students would choose to exercise alone. Qin [14] showed that 56.6% of the respondents prefer to walk on their own. Additionally, the findings of Ai [12] also clearly indicate that 42.6% of university students participate in extracurricular physical activity on their own (See Table 1).
Table 1. Contents of the studied in review.
Study ID Exercise Motivation Exercise Frequency,
Exercise Duration
-Exercise Program
Exercise Site Group or Individual
Cao and Zhao (2017) [13] Improve physical fitness Male: 34%, ≧3 times/week;
Female: 27.6%, =1 time/week.
Male: 43.2%, 30~60 min.
Female: 71.8%, ≦30 min
-Male: running, basketball
Walking, badminton.
Y Track and field N/A
Sun, (2017) [15] Keep fit 22.1%, ≧3 times/week; 13.1%, =3 times/week;
31.7%, =2 times/week.
-Male: basketball, badminton, run, swimming
Female: badminton, run
Y Sports hall, athletic field Depend on program
Cheng and Zhu (2018) [16] Male: 34.62%, keep fit; 33.61%, personal habit;
Female: 33.83%, keep fit, 32.1%, personal habit
Male: 41.85%, =1~2 times/week.
26.72%, 3~4 times/week.
Female:52.84%, 1~2 times/week.
20.49%, 3~4 times/week
Male:40.84%, 30 min~60 min.
32.27%, 60 min~90 min.
Female: 42.72%, 30 min~60 min; 30.37%, 60 min~90 min.
-47.5%, ping-pang.
42.8%, badminton.
44.1%, tennis;
Y Free sports center at campus 31.70%, individual.
28.8%, group
Wang and Zhai, (2018) [17] Keep fit N/A 63%, ≧30 min;
11%, ≦30 min;
-36.2%, Running; 23.5%, basketball.
N/A 45.1%, Free sports center at campus individual
Chen, (2019) [18] Keep fit 37.3%, ≧3 times/week. -N/A
-Males: vigorous intensity exercise.
Female: moderate intensity
Y Free sports center at campus N/A
Wang, (2019) [19] Physical fitness Male, 75.9% ≦ 3 times/week.
Female, 75.9 %≦ 3 times/week.
-Males: vigorous intensity exercise.
Female: moderate intensity
Y Athletic field individual
Dai et al. (2020) [20] Improve physical fitness 39.9%, 1~2 times/week.
29.9%, 3~4 times/week.
27%, ≧5 times/week.
Mainly range from 31~60 min (41.3%)
-Running, basketball, walking, badminton.

-50.3%, male =
Moderate intensity exercise; 42.3%, female = Moderate intensity exercise
Y 87.7%, Free sports center at campus 55.09%, individual
Ai, (2021) [12] Improve physical fitness 49.7%, =3–4 times/week;
16.3%, = 5 times/week.
Mainly range from 30–60 min.
-Male: basketball, running;
Female: running, fitness course
Y Track and field, basketball court individual
Jiang et al. (2021) [21] Improve mental health N/A -N/A
Vigorous Physical activity
Qin, (2021) [14] Relieve academic pressure and keep fit 52.6%, Proportion of regular participants in physical exercise
Male: 54%, no fixed duration; female: 42.3%, no fixed duration
Male: basketball, running, walking
Female: walking, running, ping-pang
Y Track and field, basketball court 56%, individual
Li et al. (2021) [11] 78.29%, improve physical fitness 50%, =2~3 times/week; 31.05%, =4~5 times/week; 10.86%, ≧6 times/week;
Mainly range from 30~60 min
74.58%, aerobic exercise and endurance exercise; 56.58%, antagonism sports;
39.34%, dance items.
Y Free sports center at campus individual
Peng and Tang, (2021) [22] Keep fit, =78.29%;
Actively participate in physical exercise, =51.98%
49.55%, =2~3 times/week.
31.03%, =4~5 times/week;
10.86%, ≧6 times/week.
Mainly range from 30~60 min.
Male: dangerous coping behaviors, female: resist coping behaviors
Moderate-intensity 50%
Y N/A individual
Lyu et al. (2022) [23] Improve physical health and improve the results of physical test 45.2%, occasionally perform physical exercise; 19.9%, regular perform physical exercise N/A N/A Free sports center at campus N/A
Zhang. et al. (2022) [24] Improve mental health quality 18.9%, =2 times/week.
32.8%, =3 times/week.
33.6%, =31~45 min.
16.5%, =46~60 min.
-Medium exercise, 46.54%:
Boys, ME = 53.71%, EE = 35.62%; Girls, ME = 37.47%, SM = 50.78%
Y N/A individual
Zhang et al., (2021) [25] Perceive health N/A -N/A
Moderate to vigorous physical activity
Y = yes; N/A = no answer.

3. Influencing Factors of Exercise among College Students in China

Academic pressure: This entry found that some university students reported high academic pressure and lack of time as their reasons for giving up physical exercise, with nine of the papers mentioning this factor. Five articles mentioned the lack of time to exercise due to the pressure of studying, senior examinations, and employment internships. Although university students know that exercise is good for their health, they must give it up because of time constraints. In recent years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn, university students have been under great pressure to find employment, which has led to a rise in taking examinations for higher studies [26].
Restrictions on venues and facilities: Exercise venues, surroundings, and facilities were the secondary factors influencing college students’ workouts. The preferred place for college students to exercise is the free playground or sports center on campus, but some studies showed that they are inadequate. Wang et al. [27] stated that insufficient venues are the main barrier to university students’ physical exercise, followed by a lack of time and organization. Cheng and Zhu [16] claimed that due to the college expansion plan and the increasing number of students in universities, the supply of sports venues and sports facilities is insufficient, which restricts the students from exercising when they want to.
Lack of professional guidance: This entry found that the availability of professional exercise instruction was also an important factor in determining the university students’ exercise participation. Of these, seven articles reported that the lack of professional exercise guidance was one of the factors that led the college students not to participate in physical exercise. For instance, some university students have specific exercise goals to achieve (such as weight loss, muscle building, etc.), but due to the lack of professional exercise guidance, they assume that self-exercise will not help them reach their objectives. As a result, they either stop exercising altogether or wait for a chance to be guided to exercise.


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Subjects: Psychology
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