OP-ED: Extra College Weight
Put the Pizza Down
July 27, 2016
Filed under Health
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As a fitness professional, I have a great concern about the rise in obesity among college aged students. I know many college-aged students aren’t making time for working out and they simply aren’t eating a proper diet. As a student, I have been on this campus for two years and I look around with concern. I am concerned about the health of my fellow students. The time spent in school is a crucial period during which students should be eating super foods for brain power and keeping their immune systems strong. Furthermore, college students should be engaging in enough physical activity to not only keep their hearts and bodies healthy and strong, but keep endorphins and serotonin levels up to fight off feelings of depression or general feelings of sluggishness. Instead, I fear that college students are binging on cookies and pizza and the only exercise they are getting is walking up the hill to the parking lot. A new study from Northwestern Medicine® and Northeastern Illinois University found that more than 60 percent of college aged students report not getting enough physical activity (three or more days of vigorous exercise for at least 20 minutes or five or more days of moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes a week). To further this problem is the obsession with electronics that leads to a very sedentary lifestyle. After spending hours sitting in a class, sitting at a computer, or sitting at the library studying, college students then go home and sit on their electronic devices and play games. While this probably feels like a mindless escape from the hard work they are putting into their studies on a daily basis, the increase in this sedentary lifestyle is contributing to the decline of the health of college students.
Listen, I like pizza and Pokemon just as much as the next guy, but the stats are worrisome and our health is at stake. Something has to change. I have worked in the fitness industry for over ten years and one thing I constantly hear is that working out is boring. Working out is torture. Working out is too time consuming. Really? You have time to play World of Warcraft for hours on end, but you can’t take a one-hour fitness class? I say this sarcastically, but truthfully I completely understand this excuse. Working out CAN be boring. If I ever have to spend another minute on a treadmill, stick a fork in me. I have never been one to want to spend hours on end on stationary exercise machines that go nowhere. What I truly believe it comes down to in the end is finding some kind of fitness that brings you JOY. It cannot be something that feels like torture. Working out must feel like fun. It is important to tap into something that feels like fun and a party.
One of my students is a perfect example of this. About two years ago I met Jennifer when she walked into my dance fitness class overweight, out of shape and feeling quite desperate to get healthy. After a few weeks I noticed she continued coming back almost daily, dancing it out in the back row and sweating up a storm. After about a month, I had a chance to sit down with Jennifer and get to know her. Jennifer explained to me that she gained about thirty pounds during her years in college and grad school and that she had been in and out of the gym for the last couple of years trying to lose the weight. She had tried hot yoga, kickboxing classes, boot camps, and had spent hours on elliptical machines and treadmills. Her plight was similar to so many I had heard before. She would stay dedicated for a few days or weeks, but then became miserably bored and would end up quitting. When I asked her why she had been able to stick with my class, she explained that dance fitness didn’t feel like torture. It was fun and she actually looked forward to it. Yes, it was a hard workout, but it tapped into something. Jennifer had always loved music and dance ever since she was a child, and it brought her back to the days she’d make up routines to Back Street Boys songs and make her sister video her dancing. Jennifer had finally found a fitness format that brought her joy. I am thrilled to report that two years later Jennifer continues to attend my class and has lost those thirty pounds she gained during her college years.
While I’m thrilled Jennifer has been able to lose the weight she gained, I believe the weight gain can be avoided in the first place by finding a workout that brings you joy. Think about what kind of activities bring you happiness and make you feel excited! Maybe you always loved basketball as a kid. As an adult, you can find pick up games or an intermural team to join! Maybe you were a gymnast as a child. Go get bendy at a Pilates class. Or, like Jennifer, maybe you always dreamed of being in your very own music video. Find a dance class and shred some major calories while fulfilling your dreams of being a backup dancer….or at least feeling like one. I don’t care what it is, but find a format of fitness that feels like fun. This is the surest way to stick with it and stay healthy.