What would exercise behaviors look like on a diverse, science- and health-heavy campus like University of the Sciences? This is what Elisha Shumard DPT’11, Lora Packel, assistant professor of physical therapy, and Dr. Paul Furtaw, director of Student Health and Counseling Center, wondered. So, they conducted a survey concerning first year students’ exercise behaviors.
For her capstone project, Shumard used the research tools she learned at USciences to analyze this topic, realizing that in general people aren’t exercising and meeting national guidelines. Shumard and her faculty mentors decided to look at first-year students because this is a time when they’re learning life-long behaviors.
“First year students are at a transitional point in their lives where they have new feelings of independence and fewer restrictions,” said Shumard. “It is important to make them feel like they have the power and tools needed to adapt exercise into their lives, because they are at a vulnerable point in their lives.”
In addition to shedding light on the very diverse population among USciences students, it was found that students who exercised in high school are much more likely to do so in college. Put into practice, incoming freshmen could be asked whether they exercise, then non-exercisers could be targeted for more intense education about health behaviors.
One surprising finding is that students didn’t recognize exercise’s benefit in managing stress. Students were also unaware of the relationship between exercise and academic success.
“I think [the survey] highlighted some areas that we can really look into to further target students and be more individualized with our education,” explained Packel.
Most freshmen-age students exercise to look better, manage their weight, and feel good. Packel said that such students don’t feel vulnerable to the chronic illnesses that might be the exercise focus for older adults, so engaging them in exercise right now should focus on feeling good, weight management, and stress reduction. Packel hopes that—especially through initiatives by the Samson College of Health Sciences—USciences can become an innovative leader in educating its students about health.