Exercise sciences professors identify health benefits in student routine

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The demands of college life may feel taxing, but there are several parts of the college routine that can be beneficial to a student’s health.

Daily tasks such as walking between classes, walking up stairs and carrying a backpack help BYU students obtain the amount of physical activity recommended to reduce their risk for most chronic disease conditions, according to four BYU exercise sciences professors.

“The amount of walking students do is a healthy amount,” said Ron Hager, an exercise sciences professor at BYU. “I would guess that most students probably meet 10,000 steps a day.”

Exercise sciences professor James LeCheminant said a study he helped publish in 2014 about the distance female college students walk showed that many obtain the recommended 10,000 steps per day to be classified as physically “active.”

“On average, BYU women probably get close to the recommended number of steps per day but could probably do more to be ‘very active,'” LeCheminant said.

This figure is reproduced with permission from the Journal of Physical Activity & Health. It appeared in the article “Steps Measured by Pedometry and the Relationship to Adiposity in College Women,” by Bruce W. Bailey et al., from Vol. 11, Issue 6, of the Journal of Physical Activity & Health.
Percentage of college women by steps taken per day. This figure is reproduced with permission from the Journal of Physical Activity & Health. It appeared in the article “Steps Measured by Pedometry and the Relationship to Adiposity in College Women,” by Bruce W. Bailey et al., from Vol. 11, Issue 6, of the Journal of Physical Activity & Health.

Biomechanics professor Iain Hunter said the amount of walking students do on BYU campus gives them more exercise than the typical population gets every day.

“Most students — even if they drive to campus — are still walking from building to building,” Hunter said. “Generally, most students are at least doing a better job at getting some walking exercise compared to non-students.”

LeCheminant said students’ health can also benefit from other activities they regularly do during the day, such as walking up stairs.

“There’s early evidence to suggest that getting up frequently and putting some load on muscles for a few minutes may have some health benefits,” LeCheminant said.

Exercise sciences professor Ty Hopkins said carrying a backpack may also be healthy for students because it creates a greater load for walking, which can strengthen students’ bodies.

“The body naturally adapts to stress and load, so if you’re carrying around a moderate or light weight then the body adapts by getting stronger,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said it is important for students to wear both straps when they carry a backpack so the weight is evenly distributed. He said carrying an extremely heavy or unevenly dispersed load over time could potentially create health problems.

“When you’re carrying a huge backpack with a lot of weight and it alters your center of gravity, you have to change the position of your posture and that could over time create abnormal loads across the lower back,” Hopkins said.

Despite the amount of walking students do between classes, Hunter worries that students still do too much sitting with the time they spend in class and while studying. He said this can cause lower back pain as well as being detrimental to a student’s overall health.

“A lot of sitting could be thought of as relaxing, but it has you in a position that isn’t great for your back,” Hunter said. “Students should get up and walk around a little bit between assignments or classes.”

Many parts of the typical students’ daily routine can be beneficial to a student’s physical health, according to four BYU exercise sciences professors. (Natalie Stoker)

Physical strains that are more likely to damage a college student’s health are related to factors such as excess of emotional stress, lack of sleep and bad nutrition, according to Hopkins.

“Those are the things that are difficult to manage,” Hopkins said. “If you add to that the inability to find time to adequately exercise, then you’re putting somebody in a pretty poor position in terms of overall health.”

These professors agree that students should be getting additional exercise beside the amount of physical activity they get from walking on campus every day for optimal long-term health.

“College actually can be the beginning of a physically active lifestyle; you just have to make it a priority,” Hager said. “Students just need to tell themselves that this is not something they’re going to sacrifice.”

Hunter said keeping a well-balanced life is the best way for students to avoid experiencing any health problems that may be caused by the physical demands and the stresses of daily college life.

“If we remove one important part of our life because school gets too busy, then long term that just adds more stress to everything and makes us worse at dealing with the struggles that come in life,” Hunter said. “Keeping a well-rounded life with priorities in order is the best thing to keep general stress and difficulties down.”

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