Follow up on “A for effort, F for execution”

December 8th, 2009  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  11 Comments

Well, it seems that the folks who wanted over-fat students to take mandatory exercise have re-thought their strategy. Interestingly, it seems as though policy makers preferred dropping the requirement for an exercise class to making everyone take said classes.

James DeBoy, the chairman of Lincoln’s health, physical education and recreation department proposed that instead of the mandatory class, students enrolled in a required freshman wellness course could be given an overall health risk assessment and invited to take a voluntary for-credit exercise course if that would maximize their “quality and quantity of life.”

Umm… I’d think that “maximizing quality and quantity of life” via exercise would pretty much hold true for everyone. It’s a bit of a shame that exercise classes have become something so punitive — or maybe they always were punitive (I remember my grade-school gym class traumas very well). “Exercise class” in this context sounds only slightly more fun than “calculus drills” or “removing your skin with a potato peeler”.

Why does this have to be executed in such a disciplinary, shaming, finger-wagging format? And why must “exercise” be something that one has to perform in a specially approved facility, under the supervision of experts?

I bet many of the students uncomfortable with the exercise class would much rather go dancing than take “aerobics”. I bet the right kind of inspiring coach could talk a lot of students into becoming strength athletes.

  • Why not set up a community garden and give credit for agricultural work? And link it to a community kitchen, giving credit for developing and implementing healthy eating strategies? (And sharing these with the surrounding communities)?
  • Why not set up a child care program and give credit for running around after toddlers?
  • Why not set up an outdoor recreation program and give credit for hiking, climbing, canoeing, etc.? (Google Maps tells me there’s a state park 10 miles away.)
  • Why not set up a dance program and give credit for awesome moves busted out?
  • Why not put in walking and cycling paths/bike lockers, and give credit for people who walk and cycle?

There are so, so many ways to incorporate activity into the daily fabric of life. It seems, however, that we still think about exercise like we think about prison.


  1. KAW says:

    December 8th, 2009at 10:53 am(#)

    Sadly, if lawmakers in the US thought about exercise the same way that they think about prison, we’d probably be a healthier nation. (Imagine if states spent more than $40 billion per year on gyms and other exercise facilities…)

  2. Cassandra says:

    December 8th, 2009at 11:09 am(#)

    Great post Krista!

    Your suggestions are awesome. I totally agree. :)

  3. Janna says:

    December 8th, 2009at 12:03 pm(#)

    But of course – if it’s “good for you”, it MUST be awful, unpleasant, or a trial to be endured…RIGHT? This sort of strategy only perpetuates the stereotypes of sheep-like jocks and loner couch potatoes.

    Thanks for the follow-up :)

  4. Sue says:

    December 8th, 2009at 1:39 pm(#)

    Krista, I gree with your ideas concerning all the different ways to incorporate activity, not only for exercise sake, but for basic community involvement as well. And if they did it correctly, they could have upperclassmen who have participated as newbies speak to incoming classes concerning these programs. To me, this peer support would better serve to reinforce the concepts much better than that of a mandatory educational requirement.

    Or they could give everyone the option of playing one semester of intermural rugby (like I did)…bet you’d have alot of folks hiking. he he.

  5. Janet says:

    December 8th, 2009at 4:02 pm(#)

    Beautifully said.

  6. ActionBabe says:

    December 8th, 2009at 9:25 pm(#)

    It does sound like punishment, huh? But still, I think there’s at least some respect being owed to this school who’s just trying to do what they can to improve the wellness of their students. It’s not like they have access to the nearest kindergarten class and can work on their fitness instead. They’re doing what they can in their own area, misguided as it is.

    I think the disconnect is happening earlier in the chain. It’s great to criticize the execution of this idea, we can all see the flaws in it, but the fact remains that most people who develop a hate-on for exercise do it way before they reach university. It’s not that it’s too late at that stage to develop good habits, it’s just that if exercise were something that we were always taught to view as fun and exciting, it wouldn’t be necessary for this school to have to take these miscalculated steps in implementing fitness into the lives of their students.

    So let’s roll back the Rolodex calendar and figure out where exercise becomes ‘no longer fun':

    – When you don’t get picked first for the teams in gym class.
    – When your older sibling mocks you for not being able to keep up… so they always make you It and you never win.
    – When your younger sibling joins the same softball league as you and inevitably kicks your ass.
    – When that girl who was always better at soccer than you ends up with that boy you always had the biggest crush on, and you think it must be because she scored that winning goal at the game on the weekend and has nothing to do with the fact that she’ll take off her bra for anyone.

    None of these are personal experiences, by the way. (LIE!)

    Ahem, but my theory is that at some point your efforts in fitness become a negative social experience, and that’s why you shy away from them. There’s hurt and humiliation in not being the best, or not being good, or not being the favourite, and we don’t realize until later that often you weren’t picked first because you weren’t best friends with the person who was picking team.

    So, maybe a better approach would be turning exercise into a positive social experience, with physical activity being a by-product, but not the main focus. Sneak-attack fitness, BAM!

    Also, gym teachers in grade school should never let kids pick their own teams, it’s just mean.

    /end novel.

  7. Zsuzsa says:

    December 9th, 2009at 2:42 am(#)

    Sadly, what you suggest would be much-much more expensive than making a bunch of students do some aerobics or Pilates in an empty room.

  8. Mistress Krista says:

    December 9th, 2009at 6:26 am(#)

    ActionBabe: Word.

  9. Mistress Krista says:

    December 9th, 2009at 6:37 am(#)

    Zsuzsa: In some ways yes, in some ways no. There are “costs” and there are “investments”. Costs are basically things you never get back. Investments are things you get back, with interest. Things that build community engagement, enhance wellness, and improve the overall life experience of a space are almost always investments. Many are also cheaper than one would think — or even save money in the long run.

    Dance class? I’ve seen kids outside, busting out moves with just their music. Cost? 1 music player from Radio Shack. Am I the only person old enough to remember how breakdancing used to get done? An old piece of cardboard, some kid who can beat box = hours of enjoyment.

    Garden? A few shovels, a few seed packs at the outset (then saving seeds). Food scraps from cafeteria for compost. Dirt. Savings? No grass cutting. And the “100 metre diet” can be served in university cafeterias. (This is not imaginary. University of Toronto already does this.) And what the hell, get the biology students out there helping to make sure the plants don’t croak.

    Child care? Free labour. Investment in space and infrastructure. Nominal cost to parents. Benefits — students with kids can attend. Savings? Child labour. Hey, those ugly wallets, things with googly eyes, and plastic bracelets ain’t gonna make themselves. :)

    Farmers’ market? Cost: A few trestle tables.

    Walking trails? Quit mowing the lawn in a few places. Let the people’s natural transit pathways wear the path. Or go to Home Depot and pick up a few bags of wood chips.

    Hiking, outdoor stuff? Set up carpooling to the parks. The rest of nature is pretty much free.

    Conversely, cost of aerobics, spinning etc.? 50 x spinning bikes. 15 x treadmills. 15 x stair climbers. Energy to power them. Etc. Getting students outside would first of all save energy.

    People often cite cost but actually it’s investment. And, the rewards are sometimes monetary but so much more often intangible.

  10. Trishy says:

    December 9th, 2009at 6:42 pm(#)

    Oh my goodness, student-run day care would be flippin’ phenomenal, I’m a busy grad student and I would happily chase after some toddlers for a few hours for no credit or money just to get a break from research. And expanding the day care program in general would benefit so many people; there is currently a two-year waiting list.

    I don’t understand why this university’s concept of “exercise” was apparently “walk/jog on a treadmill”, or something similarly boring. Even with formal exercise classes, you can be a lot more creative than that. In my current university, there are all sorts of available fitness classes, like yoga, jiu-jitsu, salsa dancing, and of course the standard, less imaginative weight lifting, cardio kickboxing, and swiss ball classes. If there was a mandatory fitness class requirement (like there was in my undergrad college), there is something for almost everyone.

  11. Zsuzsa says:

    December 13th, 2009at 2:21 pm(#)

    I agree with you: we shouldn’t be concerned about short-term expenditure, only about long-term benefits.

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