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Students running on treadmills

Social and physical bases of mauri ora or flourishing wellness

We've combined the disciplines of physical education with physical activity and health to provide students with a well-rounded understanding of the theory and practices of health, wellness and wellbeing for individuals, communities and populations, whatever their health status.

This major captures the reasons why we should all be physically active, the physiology behind how physical activity works to influence health, and how to prescribe exercise.

It includes how we can encourage people to be more active, as well as coaching, teaching and instructing about the relevance of physical activity. We focus on the importance of communities, including Māori communities, as well as understanding how the environment relates to being active.

This major will also appeal to those interested in teaching or coaching sport and exercise. It is designed to equip students with a strong background in the biophysical and sociocultural sub-disciplines of human movement.

In addition, there is a strong emphasis on applied practice and theory.

Study at New Zealand's highest-ranked department

The Physical Education, Activity and Health degree is hosted at the University of Otago's School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences.

We are the number 1 ranked department in New Zealand, and are ranked 12th best in the world in our field.

Why study Physical Education, Activity and Health?

  • Physical education and physical activity influences all areas of a person's health and wellbeing.
  • Physical education, or how we learn, teach, coach and instruct, is critical for positive health and wellbeing.
  • You can learn how to prescribe exercise for healthy individuals and for sedentary populations.
  • Appreciate and learn how to utilise the strength of wider communities to promote physical activity.
  • You will have the opportunity to engage in practical learning inside and outside of the classroom and exercise laboratories including our specially designed practicum paper.
  • The course offers a strong Māori physical education and health focus.

Background required

There are no specific Year 12 or 13 level subjects required for admission.

However, biology is helpful and physical education is recommended.

Career opportunities

  • Physical education teaching
  • Working with Māori communities
  • Physical activity and health promoters
  • Green Prescription
  • Health and fitness professionals
  • Sport coaching
  • Prescribing exercise in healthy and sedentary populations
  • Wellness facilitators
  • Leadership roles

What you will study?

Bachelor of Science (BSc) majoring in Physical Education, Activity and Health

100-level SPEX 101 Sport, Science and Society 18
SPEX 102 Principles of Exercise for Health and Performance 18
ANAT 101 Anatomy for Sport and Exercise (or (HUBS 191 or PTWY 131) and HUBS 192) 18
PHSL 101 Physiology for Sport and Exercis (or (HUBS 191 or PTWY 131) and HUBS 192)

Note: PTWY 131 is only available to students enrolled in the Diploma in Science.

200-level Three of:
SPEX 203 Exercise Physiology
SPEX 205 Physical Activity and Health
SPEX 206 Te Pū o te Ora Māori Physical Education and Health
SPEX 207 Understanding Sports Coaching
300-level Four of:
SPEX 306 Te Pou o te Koronga Advanced Māori Physical Education and Health
SPEX 307 Coaching, Leadership and Mentoring
SPEX 308 Psychology of Physical Activity
SPEX 309 Active Living and Environment
SPEX 310 Exercise for Clinical Populations
SPEX 316 Practicum
Plus 162 further points. Up to 90 points may be taken from outside Science. 162
Total 360

Postgraduate options

We have a strong postgraduate culture and you can undertake further studies in physical education, physical activity and health. We also have a research lab:


Caitlin Milne, Exercise PhysiologistCaitlin Milne

Exercise Physiologist at the Centre for Health

Caitlin Milne knew from the age of twelve that she wanted to study physical education and physical activity and health for the simple reason “there was nothing else I had a passion for.”

Caitlin chose the University of Otago as she'd “heard it was such a prestigious university” and because she wanted to “have the full university experience, which really, only Otago could give me.”

The staff in the School are “always willing to help, both within their office hours and beyond.”

Although the staff are fantastic, the students also learn through 'Pass Tutorials', which are run by senior students. “It's so helpful because it's really useful to hear the information from the point of view of other students and not just lecturers.”

“The course is a lot different to PE at school, and whilst there are similarities, it's so much better. If you have any interest in the human body as well as helping people then definitely do it.”

Caitlin is a recent graduate and now works two jobs in her home town of Tauranga. For her first job, she is based at The Centre for Health, which is a wellness facility “at the heart of the community, with the community at its heart”. She is working there as an exercise physiologist and completing her registration year so that she can become a registered clinical exercise physiologist.

She says that she is “working with a lot of Māori and the Māori papers at the School have helped me hugely already. We use the Te Whare Tapa Whā approach at The Centre which really focuses on holistic health”.

Caitlin undertook her honours research in the EXPINKT™ clinic. Her second job is at the Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Centre “where I'm calling women encouraging them to come for their mammograms and cervical smears”.

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