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Exercise In College

By: Logan Lynch

When students go to college, they have many priorities they need to balance. Homework, studying, class, sports, clubs and activities, and hopefully, exercise. College freshman always hear stories about the "freshman 15", which often scares them into working out so they don't have one of those stories. Students often have trouble making healthy eating choices, getting enough sleep, and drinking too much, which all contributes to weight gain. This increases the want, and the need, of students to get exercise. Even if students were not as active in their high school years, they make it a point to get exercise in college. In addition, students who played sports in high school do not play in college, so they put extra effort into getting exercise. So why is it so important to get exercise in college?

I chose this topic to talk about because exercise is something that is very important to me. I have played sports all of my life, not only because I enjoy them, but also because I know about the health benefits of staying active. I am in my first semester of college and I have been experiencing all of the problems that occur that bring stress into a college student's life, such as studying, relationship problems, bad food choices, or not getting enough sleep. Exercise is one of the biggest priorities in my daily routine and I wanted to inform others about why it should be at the top of theirs.

Weight Gain

One of the biggest motivators for freshman to exercise is because of the infamous "Freshman 15", or the weight gain that freshman put on their first semester in college. Contrary to this belief, studies have shown that the average weight gain for a college student is 3 to 10 pounds in the first two years of college, usually happening in the first semester. The only way to prevent this from happening is to get good exercise, usually at least 3 times a week and making sure you get 60 minutes of vigorous activity each time. In addition to eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep, exercise will keep you healthy and prevent that feared weight gain while in college.

Doctors TeriSue Smith-Jackson and Justine J. Reel did a study on college women that was published in the Journal of American College Health. They interviewed college women aged 18 and 19 about weight gain and college, the causes of it, and their attitudes toward the perceived idea of inevitable weight gain. About 182 students were interviewed and asked questions about the "Freshman 15" and different attitudes. Some of the questions that were asked are included in the table below:

Table 1. Sample Interview Questions
Tell me what life is like as a freshman.
Tell me about the types of things you worry about as a freshman.
Do you ever hear girls talking about the "Freshman 15"?
What types of things do they say about it?
Tell me about how academics make girls feel about their bodies.
Tell me about how the social aspect of college influences how girls feel
about their body.

These interviews revealed many different thoughts towards this idea of weight gain and college, and the results showed that a lot of this weight gain comes from attitudes towards the "Freshman 15". One participant discussed how many people view weight gain as inevitable and use it as an excuse to eat whatever they want because they need to "embrace it". Even though some participants did agree that weight gain is bound to happen, most did not agree that it is a full 15 pounds. It was also found that many college women say they view the "Freshman 15" as a joke and don't take it seriously, but in reality they really are very fearful inside and they try to keep the weight off, without looking like they are trying too hard.
Overall, the results showed that women attribute weight gain in college to the new food independence in college, social comparison with your peers, and the influence of friends and family.

It is true that some college students gain weight, that is just the way it is. But, it is all about one's attitude towards the "Freshman 15" and making wise decisions, without letting it run your whole life.

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Stress Reliever

There is no doubt that all college students experience stress in their lives when first coming to college. Academics, finances, relationships, being away from home, roommates, and many other factors can all contribute to stress. That is a lot to deal with as a college
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student and many people do not know how to deal with all of it. Exercise is one of the best ways to relieve stress and live a happier and healthier college life. Exercising release endorphins into the body, and those endorphins make you feel good, which in turn reduces stress. Exercising with friends is especially helpful when dealing with stress because social interactions with positive people also help relieve stress. No college student likes dealing
with the huge amount of stress thrown into their lives their first year of college, so why not exercise to get
multiple benefits and make your life better and happier? The graph below shows a study of students and what their preferred method of dealing stress was. To no surprise, exercise accounted for almost 50% of the students dealing with stress, because it is the most beneficial.

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Good Grades

Many people have heard that exercise helps improve students' academic performance, but a lot of college students may not fully believe it. School and exercise have nothing to do with each other, right? Wrong. There have been multiple studies showing results that supported the idea that students who exercise have higher G.P.A.'s than those who don't. For example, researchers at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan did a study where they tracked the exercise habits of 266 undergraduate students, and they also tracked their grades. The results simply showed that those students who regularly participated in physical activity had higher G.P.A.'s by an average of about 0.4 points compared to the students who did not exercise.

Exercise Addiction

Although getting exercise in college is important, there are some people who take is too far and develop an addiction. These students become too concerned with not gaining the "freshman 15" or just love the feeling of exercise a little too much. Students with exercise addiction put their workouts above all things and make it their first and only priority. Some problems that these people have are placing exercise above all other commitments, exercising even when hurt or fatigued, feeling guilt or depression when they are not able to workout, or doubling up on workouts when an exercise time is missed. In article published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, they give a definition of exercise addiction using modifications of the DSM-5 criteria for behavioral addiction. This is are the key components according to them:

Tolerance: increasing the amount of exercise in order to feel the desired effect, be it a” buzz” or
sense of accomplishment;
Withdrawal: in the absence of exercise the person experiences negative effects such as anxiety,
irritability, restlessness, and sleep problems [6];
Lack of control: unsuccessful at attempts to reduce exercise level or cease exercising for a
certain period of time;
Intention effects: unable to stick to one’s intended routine as evidenced by exceeding the amount
of time devoted to exercise or consistently going beyond the intended amount;
Time: a great deal of time is spent preparing for, engaging in, and recovering from exercise;
Reduction in other activities: as a direct result of exercise social, occupational, and/or
recreational activities occur less often or are stopped;
Continuance: continuing to exercise despite knowing that this activity is creating or exacerbating
physical, psychological, and/or interpersonal problems.

These are key elements to exercise addiction and are what separates exercise addicts from athletes who just need to train really hard year round, such as Olympians. Exercise is a very good thing, but too much of it can take a serious toll on one's physical, mental, and even emotional health. It is all about balance and incorporating exercise into your daily life in a healthy way.

Differences Between Men and Women

Despite the fact that exercise have the same health benefits for everyone, men and women seem to have different attitudes and beliefs about exercising, and they may have different motivations as well. According to an article published by The Washington Post, most men tend to believe that exercise is enough to slim down, whereas women try more to live an all around healthier lifestyle, including eating habits. Women are the most common to go on diets and a lot of men eat whatever want all the time. In addition, according to Weight Watchers surveys, men tend to enjoy exercise more. They see sweating and working harder than anyone else as a badge of honor. On the contrary, women see exercise as a means to have that extra piece of pie with dinner later.

Another difference between men and women with their exercise is how they approach it. Women are more likely to take small steps toward a larger goal and take it slow, but men tend to make large and noticeable changes right away. Men value their time in the weight room and take advantage of every minute they get, while women choose to have their battle with a healthy lifestyle outside of the gym as well, starting in the kitchen.



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Freimuth M, Moniz S, Kim SR. Clarifying Exercise Addiction: Differential Diagnosis, Co-occurring Disorders, and Phases of Addiction. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2011; 8(10):4069-4081.

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Smith-Jackson, TeriSue, and Justine J. Reel. "Freshmen Women And The “Freshman 15”: Perspectives On Prevalence And Causes Of College Weight Gain." Journal Of American College Health 60.1 (2012): 14-20. Academic Search Elite. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

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