Participation events and sustained, increased levels of physical activity

Participation Events and Sustained, Increased Leve…
01 Nov 2009

Physical (in)activity remains a significant public health issue in most countries including New Zealand.  In recent years participation in large sporting events, aimed at mass participation, has increased dramatically. It is plausible that these events could play a significant role in either increasing, or at least maintaining, New Zealand adults in high levels of physical activity.

This research work investigated how active those participating in two popular NZ mass participation sporting events (the 2008 Around Taupo Cycle Challenge and the 2008-2009 Triwoman series) were related to physical (in)activity. We sought to understand how their physical activity patterns changed over the course of enrolling in the event and post event.

Key Results

We found that:

1.       The majority of participants in mass participation sports events are already active before they begin training for the event. Females less so than males, at least in terms of accumulated vigorous physical activity. While training for the event the average physical activity levels were very high with an average of more than nine activity sessions each week accumulating an average 1148 min/week (cycle challenge) and 908 min/week (Triwoman) of both moderate and vigorous activity.

2.       Triwoman participants were more likely to be employed older, and more educated than the NZ population. In the cycle challenge event males dominate participation, with two of every three being male.

3.       Participation in the event may confer a small, positive influence on sustained levels of physical activity. There is some, albeit limited, evidence that participants from inactive backgrounds will be physically active three months after the event. A significant challenge with measuring this accurately is establishing a baseline measure of physical activity that is not confounded by pre-event training or inaccurate recollection. This limitation means in practical terms that measuring physical activity prior to becoming involved in training for an event is very difficult.

4.       Enjoyment, health and challenge/competition are the three strongest participant motivations with around three in four participants reporting that these were strong motivators for them. About half of participants rate maintaining a healthy weight as a significant motivator for event participation.

5.       In terms of psychological connection, few people from inactive backgrounds could be described terms of being attached or allegiant. Psychological connection for both events was higher for those from previously active backgrounds.

6.       Participants in both events reported high levels of behavioral intention to participate in the event the following year.

7.       Qualitative data show that many participants believe that events are a useful incentive/catalyst for inactive people to get active and that they play a key role in keeping already-active people active.  A large benefit of mass participation events may be in maintaining the already active in high levels of activity.  This research design did not allow anything more than a qualitative assessment of this potentially important public health phenomenon.

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