Comparing cardiorespiratory fitness and physical activity levels between third- and fifth-year medical students in a South African university




Background: Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors such as sedentary behaviour, decreased physical activity (PA), and low cardiorespiratory fitness lead to an increased and accelerated risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. Medical students tend to adopt sedentary lifestyles due to a demanding curriculum. This may have a negative effect on CVD risk factors and cardiorespiratory fitness levels of medical students.

Objectives: To compare physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness levels in a cohort of third- and fifth-year undergraduate medical students in a South African university.

Methods: Data from 123 third-year and 139 fifth-year medical students in the Graduate Entry Medical Programme (GEMP) at the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, were collected. Measurements included CVD risk factors, height, weight, blood pressure, waist circumference, cardiorespiratory fitness, physical activity vital signs and pre-participation health screening questionnaires. Descriptive statistics were presented as mean ± standard deviation or median [interquartile range] depending whether the data were normally distributed or not.

Results: Both groups had low cardiorespiratory fitness when compared to norm values (GEMPI VO2 peak was 29.1 ± 5.9 and GEMPIII VO2 peak was 30.0[11.0] Most participants did not meet WHO physical activity requirements (GEMP I: 72%; GEMP III: 78%). There were significant differences in BMI (p=0.046), diastolic blood pressure (p=0.034) and VO2 peak (p=0.00001) between students meeting and not meeting WHO physical activity requirements (p<0.05).

Conclusion: Third- and fifth-year medical students at a South African university fail to meet recommended WHO physical activity levels and are below cardiorespiratory fitness norms. Therefore, medical institutions should promote and implement targeted physical activity interventions to reduce the prevalence of low fitness levels and the associated health hazards among their students.


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Author Biography

Natalia Neophytou, University of the Witwatersrand

Natalia Neophytou has a Masters degree in the field of Exercise Science at the University of the Witwatersrand. She is currently perusing her PhD in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorder. She is a lecturer at the Centre for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine and runs her own private Biokinetics practice. She has published 4 papers in various journals and has research interests in exercise as a means of rehabilitation in individuals with ASD, isokinetic testing and neurological rehabilitation. She coordinates the exercise science undergraduate course at wits, supervises interns and helps run many research projects.




How to Cite

Neophytou, N., Torres, G., Faku , M., Madoka, R., Mari, E., Ndlovu , M., … Phaswana, M. (2024). Comparing cardiorespiratory fitness and physical activity levels between third- and fifth-year medical students in a South African university. South African Journal of Sports Medicine, 36(1).