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Fitness Trends among College Students

By Nick Balderrama, Cassandra Milligan, Reanna Moreno

The transition from high school to college brings about vast changes and challenges for many college students. One major challenge many students face when entering college is staying fit.

The hectic college life often leads students to become more sedentary and make poorer meal choices. Doing so contributes to students becoming unhealthy. Obesity rates continue to rise yearly among the college crowd. Fortunately, there are ways to halt the ongoing trend, including joining a fitness program here at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) and local gyms.

The “freshman 15” is a notion that is frequently recognized among college students. The “15” refers to pounds gained by first-year college students, usually as fat and not lean muscle mass.

According to Jay Zagorsky, research scientist in the Center for Human Resource Research at Ohio State University, freshmen do typically gain weight, but not nearly 15 pounds. In an article entitled “The Freshman 15: A Critical Time for Obesity Intervention or Media Myth?”  Zagorsky and fellow researcher, Patricia Smith K. conclude that the average weight change for first-year college students runs from 1.5 to 8.8 pounds, with a mean of 3.8 pounds.

Obviously, college can be a chaotic atmosphere as students must prioritize their responsibilities. This means that finishing homework and studying for exams becomes a top priority. Moreover, the financial burden that is placed upon students with tuition costs also makes landing a job another priority. In essence, working out and exercising is not a main concern for many students, and for some, becomes entirely disregarded.

In a 2011 qualitative analysis published in The Journal of American College Health, Lara J. LaCaille and a group of researchers note that the transition to college also means no longer participating in organized sports for some students.

However, there are factors that motivate students to find different avenues for exercise. Social support and convenience of on-campus facilities many times motivate students to engage in some form of physical activity.

However, exercise is not the only thing that contributes to getting into shape or maintaining fitness. A healthy diet is another crucial component as it pertains to fitness. Oftentimes, a healthy diet is glossed over and many college students continue to maintain unhealthy eating habits.

Because succeeding in academics is a priority, studying or doing homework takes up much of a student’s time. This also means less time for eating and preparing meals. Without enough time to visit a grocery store and to purchase healthy foods, most students resort to fast food and buying foods that satisfy their hunger.

Furthermore, prolonged periods of time without eating throughout the day causes students to binge-eat on higher calorie foods at night. Binge eating on higher calorie foods puts students at risk of exceeding their caloric maintenance levels and these excess calories are what causes fat surplus.

To encourage healthy habits, Estrella Mountain Community College offers a fitness and wellness program on campus. Students can participate in several of the wellness programs offered at EMCC, like the free Mile Club Challenge, where participants set a fitness goal and keep track of the miles they walk, run, hike or bike. 

An alternative is to register for a fitness class and receive credit for it upon completion. Throughout the course, students can learn the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle and how it affects academic performance. Not to mention, the courses themselves contribute to achieving fitness goals.

Another way for students to engage in physical activity is by getting a gym membership. EMCC has a partnership with Valley of the Sun YMCA, which allows students to join the Y at discounted rates. Students can opt for one of the following one-semester membership options: Adult Student Membership, $70; Couple Membership (student & adult living in the same household) $85; Family I (student & children age 18 and under living in the same household) $100; Family II (student & adult & children age 18 and under living in the same household), $150.

As for healthy eating, students can choose lower calorie foods to eat in a timely manner throughout the day, instead of restricting themselves due to time constraints. For more specific fitness goals such as gaining muscle mass or losing body fat, students need to learn about their calorie maintenance level and plan around it.

For more information about EMCC’s fitness and wellness program, visit