At Iowa, activities and facilities for improving or maintaining fitness abound. But for many students, the move away from home means that they may have to be more conscious about fitting physical activity and healthy eating into their lives. Students who stayed fit by playing high school sports may find that their activity level decreases dramatically. And eating in the residence hall provides a big change from the plate of food that was set before them at the family dinner table.
“I played football in high school, and my motivation to work out came from others, because I had practice every day,” he says. “When I came here I learned that I had to make the choice between playing video games and setting aside time for working out.”
“The environment on campus for first-year students is quite conducive to getting daily physical activity, but this assumes that students are motivated to be active and know what resources exist,” says Amy Fletcher, a fitness specialist with Health Iowa, a division of the University of Iowa Student Health Service. “It is also quite easy to overeat in the residence halls—buffet-style dining contributes to an ‘all-you-can-eat’ attitude for every single meal.”
Fortunately for students at Iowa, staying fit can be accomplished in myriad ways. One new option is the Taking Strides program, a general fitness program instituted this past fall that helps students become more aware of the many ways they can be active and have a positive effect on their health. Taking Strides is an online incentive program that uses pedometers to encourage physical activity.
“Some students do fine on their own, but others really appreciate structure,” Fletcher says. “Taking Strides provides information and helps them set goals. Participants establish good habits, like walking to class instead of taking the bus, and the pedometer provides feedback and helps them see that small steps add up.”
Currently, about 130 students are Taking Strides participants. One of those is LaGail Jennett, a sophomore from Chicago. Jennett met Amy Fletcher during Jennett’s first year, when she was concerned about the Freshman Fifteen and decided to take advantage of the fitness and nutrition assessments offered by Student Health Services. This year, she added the Taking Strides program to her fitness repertoire.
“Last year I learned about healthy eating and staying active from Amy and Kathy (Kathy Mellen is Health Iowa’s nutritionist),” Jennett says. “But it was less convenient to hit the gym over the summer, when I was back home in Chicago and away from the residence hall fitness facilities. So I became less active. The Taking Strides program helped me reset my goals. Now I always walk to class, unless I’m running late. The pedometer gives me motivation: if I’m tired and I check and see how many steps I’ve walked, it pushes me to keep walking until I reach my goal. And if I’ve already walked my 10,000 steps, but know I’m going to have a less active day later in the week, it pushes me to keep walking today to make up for it.”
Jennet likes the program so much that she’s even gotten her mother a pedometer.
“Parents are welcome to participate in Taking Strides, too,” Fletcher says. “They won’t get the prizes, but they’ll still get the motivation and an increased awareness of their activity level.”
Information about the Taking Strides program can be found online at www.uistudenthealth.com/strides.
There are less formal ways of staying active on campus as well. Each neighborhood in the residence halls system has a fitness area. The facilities in Hillcrest, Currier, and Mayflower are open to all residence hall students and include treadmills, elliptical trainers, stationary bikes, and weight machines.
“We’ve recently partnered with Health Iowa to train our staff further on the proper use of the equipment,” says Kate Fitzgerald, assistant director for Residence Life. “Health Iowa has come up with ‘dummy’ workout routines—a workout for weight loss, for example, or one for toning—and they’ve made those available in the fitness rooms.”
Fitzgerald says this fall approximately 400 students a week used the fitness rooms in Mayflower and Hillcrest, while numbers at the Currier facility ran around 100 to 150 students a day. Once the weather turns cold, she says, usage will increase.
If gym workouts don’t inspire students to get off the couch, residence hall staff encourage other forms of activity.
“RAs often get members of their floor together to participate in intramurals,” Fitzgerald says. “The majority of floors participate in some intramural, and some floors participate in every available sport. It’s a great stress reliever and a great way for residents to get to know one another.”
Intramural opportunities range from the commonplace sports, like football, basketball, and volleyball, to less traditional offerings like darts, billiards, and disc golf, according to Michelle Harder, senior associate director of recreational services for the University.
“We try to interest a wide range of students,” Harder says. “There’s something going on all the time—we had a 5K run last weekend and we’re even trying a Texas Hold ’Em poker tournament. Intramurals were the number-one extracurricular activity 30 or 40 years ago, and the number of students participating has gone up and down over the years. There are lots more choices for students these days, but we still had about 9,000 students participate in intramurals last year.”
One of those students is Kaity Stilling, a sophomore from Madison, Wisc. An athlete in high school, she was looking for a way to stave off weight gain her first year, and participating in football, basketball, and volleyball intramurals with floor members was one way she kept active. This year she only found time for volleyball and basketball.
“I have a job now, and that’s a big time commitment,” she says. Still, in addition to intramurals, Stilling manages to meet a friend twice a week to run and lift weights. And although there is not a physical education requirement at the University, she takes a lap-swimming course that meets for an hour three times a week.
“I’ve always been an active person,” she says. “For me, taking three PE classes is a great way to fulfill a Gen Ed requirement.”
Stilling says working out was easier during her first year when she lived on campus and Hillcrest’s fitness facility was available right downstairs. As an off-campus resident, she uses the weights at the Field House.
“It’s a nice place to work out, with the pool, basketball courts, and Fitness Loft all in one place,” she says. “It’s a fun atmosphere, with lots of other students around.”
In addition to the Fitness Loft in the Field House on the west side of the campus, students may use Fitness East in Halsey Hall or the Recreation Building. Unlimited use of all three facilities is $65 per semester for University students. Students can also pay a walk-in fee or purchase a punch card pass. For $115 per semester, students also can take advantage of classes offered by Recreational Services, including a range of aerobic workouts with titles like Fast Fitness, Butts and Guts, and MuscleMax; Road Rally and Tour de Fitness cycling classes; and wellness courses that include pilates and yoga. (Information on aerobic and wellness classes, available equipment, and fees can be found at http://recserv.uiowa.edu/fees.)
“We really encourage students to come and try us out,” says Pat Kutcher, associate director of recreational services. “The Cambus comes right by all three facilities. Students need to get away from their studies and remember that there’s more to college life than the books.”
While worries about obesity and fitness are familiar media topics, equally well-publicized are the issues around eating disorders. Residence hall staff members team up with Health Iowa to offer programs on healthy eating and are trained to watch for signs and symptoms of anorexia and bulimia. The Student Health Service web site includes plenty of information on eating disorders and offers suggestions for getting help. LaGail Jennett credits Health Iowa staff members with helping to steer her toward eating well and staying fit for the right reasons.
“When I first went to talk with Amy and Kathy, I told them I was afraid of the Freshman Fifteen,” she says. “And I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it, but I was big on my image—I told Amy I wanted to look like J-Lo. Amy helped me realize that it’s not about image, and helped me put the focus on my overall health.”
Jennett met with Health Iowa staff periodically during her first year, and learned how to manage the all-you-can-eat opportunities she faced while dining in the residence halls. Suggestions included writing down what she ate to help her become more aware of quantities and portion size and learning to balance meals with her fondness for late-night snacks. Fletcher also conducted a fitness assessment and helped Jennett set fitness goals.
“Health Iowa’s services are great,” Jennett says. “They’re motivating and informative.”
And as for the Freshman Fifteen?
“I lost six pounds my first year here,” she says.
by Linzee Kull McCray