NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Their grades may catapult them into the top universities, but many first-year college students have to learn their fitness ABCs to avoid the dreaded weight gain known as the freshman 15.
Experts say weight gain, whether 15 pounds or five, is a real problem for many young adults thrust, after years of parental supervision, into a make-your-own-rules campus life of midnight pizzas and all-nighters.
And too many lack the physical education to mitigate it.
“Freshmen need help with working out,” said Nduka Anyanwu, a certified personal trainer in his senior year at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York.
“They feel intimidated by the gym atmosphere. They don’t know how to start, so they walk in and they walk right out,” added Anyanwu who, as student manager of his school’s fitness center has witnessed this bewilderment firsthand.
So after semesters of helping individual students find fitness, Anyanwu wrote “FitTionary: The Beginner’s Fitness and Nutrition Guide to Staying in Shape on Campus,” to spread his knowledge of fitness fundamentals.
“I tried to water down everything for people who have no clue,” Anyanwu, an engineering and management major, said of his book, which includes information on nutrition as well as exercise.
“I tell them what a treadmill is, what an elliptical is, what stretching is, what a bicep curve is.”
His strictly back-to-basics approach advocates taking inventory, setting goals, and working steadily and realistically.
“Start with the cardio, so you burn calories and sweat,” he tells the beginner. “Then later you go for the weights. My biggest advice is: try them all and see what works for you.”
Anyanu came to the United States in 2001 from Nigeria where, he suggests, fitness is more integrated into daily life.
“Food is different. We travel back and forth differently. It’s shocking to see someone who hasn’t tried anything at all to take care of their health.”
Dr. Russell Pate, of the Department of Exercise Science, University of South Carolina, agrees that some freshmen will gain a considerable amount of weight and worries that most won’t know what to do about it.
“We’ve had an erosion in high school level physical education over the decades. The requirements of the 60s and 70s went away and a lot of kids are coming into their college experience without the background, skills and knowledge that they need,” he explained.
Dr. Barbara Bushman, an expert with the American College of Sports Medicine, said whether it’s the freshman 15 or the freshman five, when adults, even young ones, put on weight they have a hard time getting rid of it.
“We’re talking about 20-year olds,” said Bushman, a professor at Missouri State University. “That’s definitely a time to establish those habits of aerobic, resistance and flexibility training. After high school we’re moving into our adult years.”
Bushman notes the unique stresses that attend entering freshmen.
“Dorms can be very stressful. For some people there’s comfort in food. Then there are the social aspects: every gram of alcohol has seven calories.”
She thinks the secret to skirting weight gain can reside in the company kept.
“Find friends who will be active with you. Rather than ordering pizza. Play Frisbee. Peer pressure is the biggest problem or greatest benefit.”