Infographic: Witness the Fitness: Trends in Student Health, Fitness, and Nutrition

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What do high school and college students do to stay healthy? How often do they exercise? What do they eat? What sports do they play? We wanted to know—so we asked, surveying nearly 7,000 young people from all over the country. Check out what they had to say in our infographic. We give some thoughts and feedback below too.

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Long story short: students are crushing it

When we finished analyzing the results of our grand CollegeXpress and O2 MAX Fitness Sports and Fitness Survey this past fall, we were just floored. Seven thousand people, 90% high school and college students, responded. We knew high school and college students worked hard, but this is some next-level stuff.

These students come from high schools in every single state and every manner of college and university. They are balancing jam-packed school schedules with tons of extracurriculars—athletic and non. They’re exercising, eating right, and depriving themselves of precious, precious sleep to stay ahead. What might’ve been seen as overachieving 10 years ago now seems to be the norm.

Though we may get a bad rap for not being active enough as a culture, the vast—and we mean vast—majority of respondents say they exercise at least once in a while, with almost 70% doing so three days a week or more. Only 1% say they never exercise. O-N-E one! Not too shabby.

Not only that, but over 50% of our respondents say they play a sport. Favorites include soccer, track, and basketball. Football didn’t crack the top 10, which we found a little surprising, but maybe it’s because the competitiveness and popularity of the sport at many schools means fewer students can participate? It’s also a big spectator sport. Just our guess; let us know what you think in the comments.

As for why the other half doesn’t play any sports, many students say they are heavily involved in the arts, marching band, robotics, and other activities that prevent them from joining organized teams. Others found the cost prohibitive or were too focused on schoolwork. Several students new to college were still looking for athletic opportunities. A large number said they were shy or embarrassed about their perceived lack of athletic ability. Lack of coach support was a deciding factor in quitting sports for many students and also the reason why several never really started.

Of those who exercise, 65% incorporate cardio like running or elliptical machines into their routines; 50% do strength training; 36% rely on team-based sports; 30% do outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and boating; 21% practice yoga or meditate; and 12% do group classes. Others did aerobic exercises in their homes, watched exercise videos like P90X, or found their jobs and activities, like working as a babysitter or playing in a marching band, athletic enough! Not to mention exercising at dance studios, pools, equestrian centers, skating rinks, martial arts studios, ROTC facilities, and skate parks. Oh, and we got one “competitive napper.”

Half of all college respondents say their campus food is a good mix of healthy and unhealthy options, just like the real world. However, many commented that unhealthy foods tend to be cheaper, and some students choose those options to save money, even though healthier options are available. Other students make and bring their own food to campus (sometimes due to budget, sometimes due to quality). Finally, some vegetarians and vegans find it hard to evaluate their school’s choices because they don’t have many options relevant to their diets. (Side note: c’mon now! Feed the herbivores!)

Seriously, students are a motivated bunch. This corresponds with widespread research and reports that students feel more pressure and are more stressed than ever before—no wonder! Balancing school work with other activities, including regular exercise, is a struggle for most students. That being said, many have found ways to accommodate all of their responsibilities and interests, but they’ll be the first to tell you that it’s hard! They see a lot of late nights, early mornings, and full schedules. Prioritizing, maintaining a steady routine, and time management are essential skills. Built-in fitness classes in school and physically active jobs and hobbies help them meet activity goals as well, freeing up more time for class work and other activities.

Finally, we took a look at students’ social media habits and advertising observations. Students are pretty cool with sports advertising: 78% say sports ads are NBD. Eleven percent say sports-related adverting has gone overboard.

We thought fitness-related websites and apps, such as those for tracking calories and exercise, would be more popular amongst respondents. But only 11% check in to such an app at least once a day, 34% do it a few times each week or month, and 54% say rarely or never.

When it comes to what students want from those apps, 55% want to track their workouts, 45% want to track their diets, 45% want to track their weight, 57% are looking for new exercises, and 11% want to connect with other people with similar athletic interests.

These stats just prove what we all were thinking: students are motivated and accomplished, and though that accomplishment often comes at a price, they are handling it incredibly well.

Our thanks to all who participated and to O2 MAX Fitness for their help!

Infographic text

As you hit the track or court or treadmill, do you ever wonder how many of your peers are doing the same? What sports are they playing? What are they eating? How do they find time for it all?! Well, we asked them! Take a look—and see how your habits measure up!

This is how high school and college students do sports and fitness.

Nearly 7,000 students from all over the country turned out for our survey.

  • 90% aged 16–19
  • 65% in high school
  • 22% in college

53% of students play sports

Top 15 most popular sports

  1. Soccer: 22%
  2. Track and Field—Outdoor: 21%
  3. Basketball: 19%
  4. Cross-country: 14%
  5. Volleyball—Indoor: 13%
  6. Swimming: 13%
  7. Tennis: 13%
  8. Dance: 11%
  9. Running: 10%
  10. Softball: 9%
  11. Football: 9%
  12. Weight Lifting: 7%
  13. Track and Field—Indoor: 7%
  14. Yoga: 6%
  15. Baseball: 6%

5 least popular

  1. Bobsleigh: 0.03%
  2. Skeleton: 0.06%
  3. Luge: 0.06%
  4. Boules: 0.06%
  5. Croquet: 0.14%

59% play their sports solely through school

28% play some but not all sports through school

13% play their sports elsewhere

Athletic level

  • Varsity: 66%
  • Junior varsity: 25%
  • Intramurals: 12%
  • Club sports: 30%
  • Just for fun/on my own/other: 11%

Sports students want to try: Archery Basketball Boxing Cross Country Cross Fit Dance Fencing Field Hockey Football Gymnastics Ice Hockey Ice Skating Lacrosse Martial Arts Pilates Rock Climbing Soccer Strength Training Swimming Tennis Track and Field Ultimate Frisbee Volleyball Water Polo Weight Lifting Yoga Zumba

For those 47% who don’t play sports…

  • 61% don’t have the time
  • 35% don’t have the interest
  • 21% don’t have options they like available
  • 8% are currently injured or unable to play

Now Work It Out

How often do students exercise?

  • Every day or almost every day: 37%
  • Three to five times a week: 30%
  • Once or twice a week: 17%
  • A few times a month: 8%
  • Rarely: 7%
  • Never: 1%

Where do students prefer to exercise?

  • Outside, wherever: 37%
  • College/university/high school gym: 24%
  • Private gym: 16%
  • Dorm/bedroom: 14%

What do their routines entail?

  • Cardio: 65%
  • Strength training: 50%
  • Team-based athletics: 36%
  • Outdoor activities 30%
  • Yoga/meditation: 21%
  • Group classes: 12%

How do students balance fitness and other activities with school work?

  • “Being involved in sports actually helps me a lot because after practice, I know I have less time to procrastinate and have to get started on my school work.”
  • “I make sure to use my weekends wisely and plan my days out so I'm able to fit practices and a certain amount of homework in.”
  • “I find that physical activity actually helps me focus. After coming home from practice or a workout, I know I need to focus on school instead of filling my free time with things that will suck me in and distract me.”
  • “It's complicated, so I have to stay on a strict schedule.”
  • “I do my workouts just before I shower each night so I am more tired before I go to bed.”

Related: Tons more tips for balancing school and extracurriculars here!

Om Nom Nom

What is campus food like?

  • A mix of healthy and unhealthy options, just like the real world!: 49%
  • More unhealthy options. It’s hard to put together a good, well-balanced meal: 18%
  • A very healthy spread! I wouldn’t mind some more pizza and mac and cheese in my life, actually: 4%
  • Other, such as bringing food from home: 28%

What are students eating?

  • I eat a good balance of healthy and unhealthy foods. Everything in moderation: 49%
  • I eat mostly healthy things but splurge now and then: 24%
  • I don’t give much thought to my diet: 15%
  • I eat a pretty unhealthy diet—taking advantage of that youthful metabolism while I’ve got it, amirite?: 9%
  • I am on a strict diet: 2%

Plugged In

How do students feel about sports-related advertising?

  • 78% say sports ads are NBD.
  • 11% say sports ads have gone overboard.

How often do students visit fitness-related websites and apps?

  • 11% check in at least once a day
  • 34% a few times each week or month
  • 54% rarely or never!

What do students want from those apps?

  • Track workouts: 55%
  • Track diet: 45%
  • Track weight: 45%
  • Find new exercises: 57%
  • Connect with others: 11%

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