By Amelia Eck – Collegiate Staff
Tupperware containers littered the counter as Regan Cross prepped ground beef, chicken breast, spinach, and brown rice and divided the food into mini meals. Consumed by the task at hand, she completely forgot my presence at times.
Cross is a sophomore at Grand Rapids Community College and a good friend of mine. She became one of countless college students who fell into the trap of gaining the dreaded “freshman 15” after starting college and I have witnessed her fitness comeback.
The perils of a college student include early morning classes, late night study sessions, an almost empty bank account, and for some, gaining extra pounds along the way. Numerous students deal with the shameful weight gains that creep up on many freshmen.
College is filled with tempting, but unhealthy, foods, drinks and activities. Most of all, the freedom to make your own decisions about these things begins. Cross knows about the struggle that comes with making the transition from a senior in high school to a freshman in college and what it can do to the body.
“This past fall, I had a wake up call,” said Cross. “I needed to get my butt into shape.”
This lifestyle change for Cross included cutting out foods like simple carbs and sugars, meal prepping everyday, and going to the gym six days a week, engaging in challenging workouts.
“Ever since I can remember, I have had a passion for sports,” said Cross. “I was involved all year long.
When I started my first year of college at GRCC, I found myself gaining weight very quickly due to the fact that I wasn’t in a sport…(I had) a full year of unhealthy eating habits and minimal gym exposure.”
Cross found that she was about 20 pounds heavier than she was in high school. After a harsh realization that she did not like the new her, she was determined to get herself back in shape. Of course, like most major life changes, it came with struggles.
“It’s hard to be on the go all the time and have healthy meals available, that’s why I portion them and leave them in to-go containers,” said Cross. “It’s also really hard to eat healthy when friends and I go out to eat.”
From the time she was 5 until her senior year of high school, sports were a passion for Cross and she was always part of a team. This kept her in shape and also allowed her to familiarize herself with the school’s weight room, learning new exercises to improve her athletic performance. Since changing her eating habits, Cross has also reconnected with the gym.
“A regular workout for me includes a five minute treadmill warm-up, then I train an isolated muscle group with weights, and I finish with 20 minutes on the stair master,” said Cross.
Lee McLaughlin, a wellness professor at GRCC and Grand Valley State University, is an advocate for healthy living and has taught different wellness courses and exercise classes. She offered up advice to those considering a healthier lifestyle.
Exercise plays a vital role in our health, yet a considerable amount of people cannot seem to find the time to do so. As a student with work and a social life, finding time to exercise might not be the first thing on your mind.
Cross makes time in her schedule to workout, either before her day begins or at night after school and work. Adults have different responsibilities.
Work becomes a career and maintaining a social life becomes challenging when kids are thrown into the mix. Due to the craziness of the week, weekends are spent regenerating and resting.
“Every single day and every single moment, we could be spending our time doing something else, right?” McLaughlin said. “If living a healthy lifestyle is a goal for you, then spending time on yourself, your mind, and your body needs to be a priority.”
McLaughlin believes that physical activity has the ability to help you prep your mind and body to be even more successful to take on the rest of your to do list. Kids, work, and school should not be excuses to bow out of physical activity in your day. She has some helpful tips on ways to include exercise into your busy schedule. Study at the track, and every 15 minutes, walk or run a lap. Take the kids on a walk with you, and at every stop sign, do 10 squats. She encourages people to have fun with movement.
Most often, just exercise is not enough. Running three miles a day and eating a cheeseburger for dinner every night will not give someone the results they desire. Healthy living incorporates both daily exercise and a healthy diet.
McLaughlin believes that regular exercise and eating well are a dynamic duo and has an analogy that she uses to explain how the two correspond.
“Your body is a bicycle,” McLaughlin said. “Without movement for months, it is going to be squeaky and a bit rusty. But, with consistent movement and adequate fuel (nutritious food), you’ll have the power to be moving in the forward direction with a nice, smooth pedal stroke.”
The word “diet” sounds intimidating because it is a complete change in how a person lives. Living a healthier lifestyle means making subtle changes in your life until it becomes habit. It could mean drinking water instead of a Coke or eating an apple instead of a McGriddle for breakfast. The key is not to completely cut out all foods at one time because “stopping cold turkey” rarely works.
Cross admits that the benefits of both healthy eating and exercise are addicting.
“After eating healthily and feeling absolutely amazing, I have so much energy,” said Cross. “I would not go back to eating like I did before. I’m looking forward to seeing more and more results.”
Bottom line, exercise promotes healthy living, along with many other benefits. It keeps your body healthy, boosts your energy, and it’s fun!
1. Why exercise? To lose weight, duh.
One very obvious benefit is that when you exercise, you can lose weight. Exercising does not have to be cross-training or five mile runs every morning. It could be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking to get lunch.
2. Cheerios Aren’t the Only Thing That Lowers Cholesterol…
Along with weight control, exercise can also be the cure to many health conditions. It is well known that fat surrounding your organs can compromise one’s health. Daily exercise can reduce high blood pressure, cholesterol, some cancers, arthritis and metabolic changes.
3. Forget Energy Drinks!
Another plus to regular exercise is an abundance of new energy. It improves your muscle strength and endurance. It also causes certain organs to work more efficiently, like the heart and lungs, improving cardiovascular health and getting oxygen and nutrients to tissues.
4. Put Down the Stress Ball and Put on Your Tennis Shoes
Exercise can also help relieve stress. After taking the dog for a run or swimming a couple laps at the pool, you might notice that what was irritating you is now in the back of your mind. Because you are focused on the single task at hand, it’s easy to shed your daily tensions and have a more open and clear mind.
5. Turn That Frown Upside-Down
Being physically active causes an increase of endorphins in the brain, the “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain. Often times, athletes describe getting a feeling of euphoria or a “high” after working out because the endorphins work with opiate receptors in the brain to reduce how we perceive pain. They act similarly to well-known drugs, like codeine and morphine. The feeling that comes from exercising is addicting, in the best way.