UBC Undergraduate Research

Promoting Social Connection Through Online Physical Activity Programming Law, Bryan Kwan Ho; Chau, Candace; Badyal, Simran; Stresing, Stephanie


Between online classes, work from home, and virtual exercise programs, online activities are at an all-time high. As a result, many people are struggling to maintain social connections. Feelings of social connectedness are extremely important for the mental well-being of others; but the current pandemic and virtual lifestyles have increased feelings of loneliness, isolation, and sedentary behaviours. The goal of this study is to identify barriers to social connection through online physical activity programs for students at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Vancouver campus. In doing so, we aim to provide UBC Recreation (UBC REC) and SEEDS (Social Ecological Economic Development Studies) UBC with the necessary information to implement changes and increase the health and well-being of UBC students. Existing research lacks data that is specific to social connection among undergraduate students and online physical activity programming. Furthermore, literature reviews do not indicate that social connection through physical activity increases motivation and mental well-being. Studies have shown that exercise patterns among university students are especially important due to students’ predisposition towards unhealthy lifestyle habits such as having a poor diet or increasing alcohol consumption. Additionally, students’ university years often set a foundation for the habits they maintain later in life. Driven to action by the lack of existing research, we examined the barriers to social connection in online physical activity platforms and the attitudes and habits of UBC undergraduate students through a Qualtrics survey. The survey was designed to provide insight into participants' attitudes on social connection and online physical activity programming, factors that prevent participants from participating in online physical activity programs, and participant experiences with existing programs. Based on a total of 78 responses, the findings indicate that social connection is important to university students, and 71.2% of respondents report enjoying social connection while being physically active. In addition, most participants indicate a decrease in their physical activity levels and an increase in social isolation due to COVID-19. Approximately, 64.1% of respondents have not participated in online physical activity classes, with participants naming awareness of existing programs as the number one barrier to participation in online physical activity programs. Findings also indicate a preference for synchronous physical activity classes, with a greater variety in the types of classes offered. Based on these findings, we presented five recommendations for UBC REC to consider implementing in future online physical activity programs. The first recommendation is to increase awareness of existing programs through social media marketing and share information about UBC REC programs as part of the faculty resources for student well-being. The second recommendation suggests increasing the variety of online programs, such as incorporating different types of classes for students of varying fitness levels. The third recommendation is specific to online sport programming and the utilization of private group classes. The fourth recommendation focuses on increasing synchronous physical activity classes and utilizing Zoom as the delivery platform to allow for greater interaction among the participants. The final recommendation introduces outdoor settings to physical activity programming thereby increasing mental and physical well-being by decreasing social isolation. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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