Physical Activity: An Underestimated Investment in Human Capital?

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Richard Bailey
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Charles Hillman
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Shawn Arent
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Albert Petitpas
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Despite the fact that physical activity is universally acknowledged to be an important part of healthy functioning and well-being, the full scope of its value is rarely appreciated. This article introduces a novel framework for understanding the relationships between physical activity (and specifically sport-related forms of physical activity) and different aspects of human development. It proposes that the outcomes of physical activity can be framed as differential ‘capitals’ that represent investments in domain-specific assets: Emotional, Financial, Individual, Intellectual, Physical, and Social. These investments, especially when made early in the life course, can yield significant rewards, both at that time and for years to come. The paper presents a new model—the Human Capital Model—that makes sense of these effects, outlines the different capitals, and briefly articulates the conditions necessary for the realization of Human Capital growth through physical activity.

Bailey is with the Centre for Sport, Dance, and Outdoor Education, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, United Kingdom, and with RBES Ltd, Sheerness, Kent, United Kingdom. Hillman is with the Depts of Kinesiology & Community Health, Psychology, and Internal Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Arent is with the Human Performance Laboratory, Dept of Exercise Science and Sport Studies, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ. Petitpas is with the Center for Youth Development and Research, Dept of Psychology, Springfield College, Springfield, MA.

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