Students can keep dreaded 'freshman 15' at bay using schools' fitness centers 

College can be rough on the waistline. Dining halls offering all-you-can-eat options, late-night study slams with pizza, and parties with alcohol can all mean added pounds to the average college student.


The Nutrition Journal recently published weighty facts: 23 percent of freshmen will gain an average of 10 pounds during their first semester.

Coupled with a full caseload of course work, many students might find it hard to keep healthy while getting a higher education.

"It's about the general well-being of the student, keeping them healthy and fit," said Cassie Londono, group fitness manager and evening supervisor at the University of Central Oklahoma's Wellness Center. "We've been offering group fitness classes since the Wellness Center opened six years ago, and it's always been pretty popular."

Students looking to break the monotony of running or working out on the treadmill can spice up their fitness goals with instructional group fitness classes offered at many universities.

These classes aren't just the standard aerobics class, either. Universities are getting savvy on what students want; classes now range from extreme yoga to Zumba to even dance.

The American Council on Exercise recommends that first-time students try to maintain a regular eating schedule that includes breakfast, choosing healthy snacks and limiting alcohol, which often contains empty calories.

To help beat the bulge, the ACE also recommends students take advantage of sports, campus recreation centers and fitness centers.

Kayla Garver, a senior at UCO, has always maintained fitness, but joined a group "total strength" fitness class during the university's introductory week. Because the group fitness classes were free the first two weeks of school, she decided to try a group atmosphere.

"You get a lot more instruction from the teacher, so you know you are doing it right," Garver said. "I was a little hesitant at first to join a group class, but as you get started, you get more comfortable. It's a great way to meet people, too."

UCO offers classes ranging from group weight training and Jazzercise " popular with the nontraditional student, said Londono " to yoga, Pilates, Zumba and even bellydance.

"Our group fitness is actually separate from the Wellness Center. We fund the program by selling registration cards. Students can go the Wellness Center for free, but the fitness classes have a charge," Londono said.

The University of Oklahoma's group fitness classes include Bosu Blast, which uses Bosu balls, stability balls and medicine balls; hip-hop, a dance class that doubles as a cardiovascular workout; and kickboxing, a fitness class that teaches students to defend themselves, while increasing coordination, speed and stamina. The group fitness program at OU also offers yoga and Zumba, among other options.

At Oklahoma City University, students have the option to take unique classes like fencing, sailing, ballroom dancing and rock climbing.

"Every class is pretty popular," said Larry Guerrero, chair of kinesiology and exercise studies at OCU. "Some classes average 18 to 25 students. One of the more popular classes is Pilates; we have four sections just of Pilates, so that says a lot."

Ballroom dancing is another class with high interest, due to the number of dance majors at the university and the popularity of such shows as "Dancing with the Stars," he said.

"When I first came to the campus in 2005, the class schedule had only two physical education classes: just golf and aerobics," Guerrero said. "I started talking to the students and asking what their needs were, and we came up with certain courses."

The changes worked, and OCU reports full rosters in its physical-education classes.

"I've seen several students who started as freshmen and have had major body composition changes over the years," Guerrero said.

Colleges are getting wise that extracurricular options also attract students. At UCO, Londono speaks with students regularly about what fitness classes they'd like to see.

"We stay on top of the current trends. Students will usually send me an e-mail or grab me outside and ask about having certain classes," she said. "That's how we got Zumba."

It's also good business.

"If a student really likes a class, it gets around through word of mouth," Londono said. "Students will tell other students."

OCU uses its courses to lure students, as well as retain them.

"It's one of the biggest tools I have when looking at recruitment," Guerrero said. "Students have a chance to meet new people, feel more comfortable on campus and have fun, and that has a benefit in retaining those students." "Heide Brandes

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