Regular physical activity (PA) contributes to lifelong health and well-being. Adolescents in the Netherlands do not engage in sufficient PA, leading to serious health risks. The purpose of this study is to inform PA-enhancing strategies. This paper offers a unique method for analysing students’ perspectives about opportunities for PA in their school environments.
The research method combines two approaches: a Health Promoting Schools (HPS) approach, which supports children’s development by using the school setting to promote PA, and a salutogenic approach, which engages all students in dialogue and reflection to identify factors or ‘assets’ that enhance their PA.
Ninety-three students aged 12–14 from four secondary pre-vocational education schools participated in two group sessions in which the structured interview matrix and photovoice methods were employed. In these sessions, the students interacted with each other about four asset categories: talents, passions, the social environment and the physical environment.
Thematic analyses of their dialogues led to three main insights:
- students must perceive the activities as meaningful, appealing, contextually possible and manageable;
- they use a wide variety of reasoning processes when deciding whether to engage in PA; and
- it is valuable to invite students to share their individual perspectives on assets related to PA.
All these aspects connect to the goals of both HPS and salutogenesis. We conclude that shifting the focus towards developing school-based interventions that build on student perspectives and active participation provides students with realistic opportunities for shaping PA and motivates them to be more physically active.