Long-term recreational exercise patterns in adolescents and young adults: Trajectory predictors and associations with health, mental-health, and educational outcomes

Julie Ayliffe Morgan, Jana Maria Bednarz, Ronnie Semo, Scott Richard Clark, Klaus Oliver Schubert

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    Individual and societal factors influencing the formation of long-term recreational exercise habits during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood are not well explored. Using data from the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth (LSAY), a population-representative cohort study of Young People followed from age 15 to 25, we aimed to (1) model longitudinal recreational exercise trajectories from age 16 to 24, (2) examine predictors at age 15 of entering these trajectories, and (3) explore the association between the trajectories and health, mental health and educational achievement outcomes measured at the final study wave (age 25). Self-reported recreational exercise frequency data from 9353 LSAY participants were analysed using group-based trajectory modelling. We modelled the evolution of two patterns of recreational exercise behaviour: daily exercise, as per public health guidelines (Model 1); and at least once weekly exercise (Model 2). Model 1 trajectories were guideline-adherent exercisers (17.9% of the sample), never guideline exercisers (27.5%), guideline drop-outs (15.2%) and towards guideline (39.4%); Model 2 trajectories were weekly exercise (69.5% of the sample), decreasing (17.4%), increasing (4.8%), and infrequent (8.3%). For both models, at age 15, trajectory membership was predicted by gender, self-efficacy, time spent participating in sport, time spent watching TV, parental socioeconomic status, and academic literacy. At age 25, people in the guideline-adherent exerciser trajectory (model 1) reported better general health relative to other trajectories, Those in the weekly exerciser trajectory (model 2) had better general health and reduced rates of psychological distress, were happier with life and were more optimistic for the future relative to participants in less than weekly trajectory groups. Exercise-promoting interventions for Young People should specifically address the needs of females, people with low self- efficacy, reluctant exercisers, higher academic achievers, and those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere0284660
    JournalPloS one
    Issue number3 March
    Publication statusPublished or Issued - Mar 2024

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General

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