Male students tend to be more physically active than female undergraduates

The finding emerged in an analysis of first-year student lifestyles, carried out by researchers at the University of the West of Scotland and the University of Strathclyde. The researchers, who assessed students' levels of physical activity, their diet, as well as psychological factors, also found undergraduates who stayed at home tended to have healthier diets and lifestyles.

This pilot SHAPE (Student Health and Physical Activity Engagement) study involved 32 students and was led by Dr Chris Easton of UWS and Dr Knowles from the University of Strathclyde. The team collected measurements from students during the second semester of their first year and, gathered data using accelerometers, questionnaires and one-to-one interviews over a period of two months.

Dr Easton, of UWS's School of Science, said it was important to ensure students did not ditch good habits learned at home when they go to university. He said:

People tend to think that girls are more responsible at an earlier age – but these preliminary findings don't reflect that.

In fact, it appears female students are more inclined to be less active during their first year of university – which may have a significant impact on their overall health. Beginning university is a significant occasion in a young adult's life and can be quite an upheaval

Perhaps not entirely unsurprisingly, the most significant finding was that the living environment is a crucial factor in physical activity levels of the students.

Dr Knowles, of Strathclyde's School of Psychological Sciences and Health, said:

Based on our observations, we would hope in the future to be able to use our research to provide better advice on how students can change their behaviour in order to improve their health. This seems particularly relevant for those students who experience campus living in their first year at University.

Dr Easton said further research was needed to provide a full picture of students' health. 

The research will continue until October 2014 with a final report due for publication later this year.