One of the cool things about living in a university community is the opportunity to participate in student learning experiences. From Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center to the School of Hospitality Management meals on campus, a university community where college students are gathering knowledge and experience can have some perks. Even in my own department, our students provide support to and/or plan dozens of community programs and events like the Operation Military Kids annual event or Earth Day-Birthday at Millbrook Marsh nature center.
On a more individual level, there are also opportunities for local residents to participate in interesting research studies.
We were contacted when my son was born about participating in a study related to emotions and colic. It seems funny now but I agreed to let researchers come to my house where, after using a rubber band-like device to sting his foot, they assessed my infant’s ability to soothe himself and how much my voice or my physical presence helped him. With his name on the candidate list, he was invited to participate in other studies. Some of them were comical; one involved a clear plastic box with a toy inside for which the key didn’t work to evaluate his frustration response. Another had the researcher playing a game with him while assessing his concern for a “baby” crying in the next room. My favorite was a game with a ticket system that would earn him prizes. In that one, the researcher left the room with the ticket roll left unattended to see if he would cheat. (In my decidedly biased view, he passed all with flying colors).
We also did “Girl’s Needs” starting when my daughter was age 5 or 6 and continuing through her teen years that involved a bi-annual, two day camp-like experience that assessed her perceptions of food and weight and our family attitudes about diet.
In many instances there were financial rewards for participating but we mostly did it because it was fun.
This year, I decided to say “yes” to a request for community support for a kinesiology class.
I fit the criteria that were outlined in the announcement email and, after asking my oldest daughter (who is already a gym rat) to see if she wanted to do it too, we volunteered. The course, Kinesiology 457 (Exercise Prescription and Case Studies) is taught by instructor Lori Gravish. We were told that we would be hearing from our assigned student who would conduct an individualized fitness assessment and then help design a plan for us to meet our fitness goals.
Fitness goals? “I would like to feel and look the way I did when I was 25.”
I received an email from my assigned student, Sean, who arranged for me to meet him in the White Building for my assessment. Sean turned out to be a very fit, very personable young man who is a senior in kinesiology. First, we sat down with a list of questions. He used humor and considerable knowledge to help put me at ease. How often do you exercise? Does “I used to” count? What are your fitness goals? To feel better. (I figured telling him that I wanted to be bikini approved might be a bit overwhelming). Would you be willing to join a gym?
Do I have to?
He then asked me to do some things that assessed my balance, posture, flexibility, etc. We agreed to meet again after he had developed my plan and had it approved by the instructor. In the meantime, Sean suggested that I start a daily walk with my dogs to ease into my new fitness plan.
Sean had his work cut out for him.
We met a week or so later at the North Club where my husband and daughter already have memberships. The North Club staff were great - they are used to working with kinesiology students – and let me use my trial visit for our meeting. Sean started out by handing me a pedometer. He said “our goal is 10,000 steps a day.” From there, he outlined my plan and demonstrated how to use the machines. After, he sent me an electronic version of my exercise plan and suggested that I start out slow and send him weekly reports via email.
The next day, Sean sent me an email that he received from the North Club, advertising a sale with a reduced fee for joining on Halloween.
Sean was starting to make me mad.
Motivated by the possibility of looking like a slouch, I put the pedometer on my belt, joined the club and launched this new exercise plan. After a disappointing 4,934 steps on Day 1, I have exceeded the goal almost every day since. I’ve learned that getting to 10,000 means some “have tos” like using the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther away and taking time to either walk or hit the treadmill/elliptical every day. I wore the pedometer at a conference last week and, for the first time in a long time, made use of a hotel fitness center and followed the plan every day. I may even try a Zumba class.
I’m feeling better, sleeping better and have less of an inclination to reach for that doughnut in the office kitchen. Go figure.
I’m not in a bikini yet but without that email notice and invitation to participate in this student learning opportunity, I may not have found the motivation to refocus on my health.
Thanks Penn State and thanks to the kinesiology program for letting the public benefit from your teaching. Thanks to Sean for a job well done and for your kindness and patience. Even though you got stuck with the lazy, fat, old lady, all hope is not lost. I hope you have learned something, too.