Wellness Wednesday “Eyes on the Street”: Why Be Active In Your Community?

There are plenty of personal reasons to walk, jog, bike or otherwise actively get around: it increases one’s own ability to get exercise, it’s cheap (or free!), and can have positive mental health outcomes like lower stress and anxiety.

But, actively getting around has greater altruistic benefits as well. Many of these are centered around the “eyes on the street” principle from sociologist Jane Jacobs:

“This is something everyone knows: a well-used city street is apt to be a safe street. A deserted city street is apt to be unsafe.”

The idea here is that the more eyes you have on a given street, the greater sense of community ownership and safety. The spirit of “eyes on the street” is not so much about watching what’s around us, but rather seeing and taking a part in what is around us, and thus, shaping the community.

Here are the “eyes on the street” benefits of actively getting around campus and community by walking, biking, jogging, etc.:

Getting to know community and community members

It sounds like a no-brainer, but actively getting around campus and the community allows us to get better acquainted with neighbors and those around us. When we choose to walk or bike versus drive, we have the ability to interact with those around us by smiling, waving, taking a minute to talk, etc. In the Chapel Hill community, these kinds of connections with surroundings and neighbors can help bridge the UNC campus community to the greater Chapel Hill community.

Neighborhood health and safety benefits

Actively getting around a community also means actively taking part in it. That means acknowledging what we appreciate about a neighborhood, and, importantly, it also means spotting things that seem like they need attention—from a large crack in the sidewalk, to a stray dog, to a jogger who has fallen. This can lead to benefits in crime-reduction and generally making things safer.

Increases community norms around activity

Actively getting around campus and community is contagious. The more people you see walking around, the more likely you might be to walk around yourself! In this way, being an active commuter is a way of changing social norms around activity.

Resources

These are just some of the community-wide benefits of actively getting around a community. Though we’ve focused on the benefits of actively getting around, it’s important to be safe while doing so. For more information on pedestrian and cyclist safety check out links at the UNC Department of Public Safety, and the Town of Chapel Hill.

Wellness Wednesday blog posts are written by Student Wellness or Campus Health Services staff members. Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on healthyheels.wordpress.com.

The Importance of Good Posture

You sit down at your desk to start that paper that you’ve been procrastinating for the entirety of Fall Break: for those first 15 minutes of staring blankly at the empty Microsoft Word page on your computer, you’re sitting up straight, your back against the back of the chair, and your feet are on the floor. By the time you come up with a thesis, you’re sitting on one foot you’ve tucked under the other leg and the distance between your face and the computer screen has been cut in half. By the end of the introduction, it looks like the Hunchback of Notre Dame is sitting at your computer, and by the end of the first page, you’re just typing a million ”g’s” because your face is laying on the keyboard. Good posture isn’t found on the priority list of most college students, but it can have a drastic impact on your long-term health.

Maintaining good posture means sitting in a way that allows your bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons to all be in proper alignment so that no particular area or part of your body has an unnecessary amount of stress placed on it. Proper posture prevents joint and muscle pain that can become almost permanent over time as the stress causes damage to your body. Improper posture can increase your risk of arthritis and even limit proper organ and nervous system function if you’re constantly hunched over so much that your torso is significantly shorter than it should be.

ID-100148426Holding poor posture on a regular basis can be a result of both weak muscles and overly tight muscles. Stress and long hours of sitting in the same place, working on a computer, for example, can cause the neck, shoulder, and back muscles to tighten up and encourage bad posture as we hunch and lean and sag to try to compensate for the tension we’re feeling. If your abdominal muscles are weak, your posture will also suffer significantly because the core muscles are essential for supporting the spine and even aligning the hips as you walk and sit, which is just another reason to be sure you’re making time to incorporate some core strengthening exercises into your routine.

It seems like we often recognize bad posture when we see it or feel it, but could you demonstrate perfect posture if you were asked? Proper posture is different if you’re sitting, standing, lying down, or exercising. Here are some tips for improving your posture no matter what you’re up to:

If you’re sitting:

Start by lengthening your torso and “sitting up straight.” You’ll probably be surprised at how much you were just slouching without even realizing it! Roll your shoulders back to relax them and align them with your hips, and place your feet flat on the floor so that your torso-to-thigh and thigh-to-calf angles should both be 90 degrees. Make sure you’re not holding tension in your shoulders and keeping them up too high or hunching them forward toward whatever you’re working on, even though it’s always quite tempting.

If you’re standing:

Your ears, shoulders, hips, and ankles should all be in one lovely straight line for optimal standing posture. It’s best to stand with your feet about hip-distance apart instead of with feet together or spread widely. You’ll also want to keep your toes pointing forward, avoid locking the knees, keep equal weight in both legs or shift back and forth slightly, and keep the spine long and straight. Think about how in movies, children are taught to maintain proper walking posture by walking while balancing a book on their heads. There really is benefit to keeping the chin up and parallel to the floor, because it helps to keep your back straight and your shoulders down and back, as well!

If you’re sleeping:

Maintaining good posture while sleeping can be extremely difficult because it’s always just easiest to lay the way that feels most comfortable instead of sleeping in a way that’s best for your spine. I’m always tempted to sleep sprawled out on my stomach, but this is actually one of the worst positions in which to sleep according to the American Chiropractic Association. Sleeping on your stomach can cause the spine to be curved backward more than it should, causing unnecessary strain on the back muscles and that unwanted soreness in the morning when you finally try to roll over. The best ways to sleep for your spine and muscular health are on your side with a pillow between your legs, or on your back with a pillow under your knees. These sleeping positions might take a little getting used to, but can actually be quite comfortable if you’re willing to give it a try, and can help you to sleep better by reducing stress on your body.

If you’re exercising:

When exercising, posture is more commonly referred to as “proper form,” but is just as important as during all other times of your daily life. During weight lifting exercises especially, it’s important to keep the shoulders and shoulder blades down and back and the chest and face up and forward, as they would be when you’re standing. Make sure that you learn the proper form for any exercise before you attempt it or do that exercise regularly to ensure maximum benefit and minimal damage to your body. If you feel that you have poor posture in your daily life, incorporating gentle muscle-strengthening exercises into your week, such as yoga or light weight lifting can help you gain the strength to naturally hold your body in a healthier position. Superman and cobra poses and exercises can be great for strengthening weak back muscles and stretching out the abdominals, and the Warrior yoga poses can be good for stretching out your hips if they have that achy feeling after a long day of sitting.

The good news is that you are completely in control of your posture, and it’s never too late to make great changes to improve your health and comfort! It can be so hard to pay attention to something as seemingly simple as the way we stand, sit, or ever sleep, but just developing this healthy habit can have long-lasting benefits to our overall health. In addition to improving your skeletal and muscular health, proper posture can also help you to simply look more respectable in a meeting, classroom, or interview setting and portrays a confident appearance as opposed to an apathetic, tired appearance if you’re slouching over the table in your seat. Comfort is important, but before you curl into a tiny ball in one of the comfortable chairs in the library, consider giving a day of good posture a try to improve not only your health and long-term comfort, but to create a setting of wakefulness and focus as you sit down to finish that paper!

Sources:

  1. http://www.livestrong.com/article/78788-posture-important/
  2. http://www.kansaschirofoundation.org/goodposture-article.html
  3. http://www.acatoday.org/content_css.cfm?CID=1452
  4. freedigitalphotos.net

Fall Specialty Fitness Programs Round 2 – Don’t Miss Out!

If you weren’t able to get in on the fitness and fun the first time around, here’s your second chance this semester! UNC Campus Rec is offering a second set of specialty fitness classes starting soon. These courses are all great fun, and I hope to see some more of our readers again this time around!

I took the boot camp class earlier this semester, and it was one of the greatest workout classes I’ve ever completed. The classes were initially easy, but progressively increased in intensity as our fitness level improved. The final class was a true testament to the progress of our group! To read more about what the boot camp class is like, check out What Happens in a Boot Camp Class? and What Happens in a Boot Camp Class? Part II.

Fall weather is fluttering in, and you must not forget to register this time! To get started on your fall fitness journey, register in the SRC main office and pay the required fee. These programs have a small cost, because a trained instructor designs and specializes them.

So what programs are in the next round of fall specialty fitness classes? The wait is over! Here’s the list of upcoming programs. Notice the “try before you buy” class- this allows you to sample any course before committing.

TAR HEEL TABATA (Pat) - You can do anything for 20 seconds! How about 20 seconds, times 8 times 4? Test your cardiovascular endurance and power through this new exhilarating workout that uses short work and rest intervals to maximize the impact of your workout. Tabata training is a form of High Intensity Interval Training in which you perform an exercise at maximum intensity for 20 seconds and rest for 10 seconds.  See results with this express cardio and strength workout!

Cost: $25 (10 sessions)
Location: SRC Studio B
Try Before You Buy: Monday, October 20, 2014 (no registration necessary)
Days/Time: Mondays & Wednesdays @ 4:30-5:00pm
Dates: October 22, 2014 – November 24, 2014 (5 weeks)
Registration Opens: Monday, October 6th
Registration Closes: Wednesday, October 22nd

TRX SUSPENSION TRAINING (Craig and Meghan) - This 10-session functional fitness program will challenge your muscular strength and core function with every exercise.  You will participate in group workouts focused on improving strength, power, and calorie expenditure.  Our exercise intensity will provide great results while the versatility of the TRX will help maintain your motivation. Space is limited, so reserve your spot early!

Cost: $55 (10 sessions)
Location: RHRC Court 1
Try Before You Buy: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 (no registration necessary)
Days/Time: Tuesdays & Thursdays @ 7:00-8:00am (Craig)
Tuesdays & Thursdays @ 5:30-6:30pm (Meg)
Dates: October 23, 2014 – December 2, 2014 (5 weeks)
Registration Opens: Monday, October 6th
Registration Closes: Wednesday, October 22nd

BOOT CAMP (Sabrina and Meg) - Boot Camp is an hour-long high-intensity athletic workout. We utilize intense sets of exercises and drills followed by short rest periods to create a powerful fitness workout. This program is great for improving cardiovascular fitness, achieving or maintaining healthy body weight, improving body composition, increasing strength, and improving athletic performance.

Cost: $30 (10 sessions)
Location: RHRC Court 1 & Outdoors
Try Before You Buy: Monday, October 20, 2014 (no registration necessary)
Days/Time: Mondays & Wednesdays @ 6:30-7:30am (Meg)
Mondays & Wednesdays @ 5:15-6:15pm (Sabrina)
Dates: October 22, 2014 – November 24, 2014 (5 weeks)
Registration Opens: Monday, October 6th
Registration Closes: Wednesday, October 22nd

WOMEN ON WEIGHTS 

This 8-session workout is focused on instructional methods for using a barbell and will challenge your body in new ways. This group workout will consist of safety, proper form and technique instruction, as well as a challenging total body workout. This class is focused on increasing muscular strength and endurance while educating you on various training methods.

Cost: $30 (8 sessions)
Location: SRC Studio B and Woollen Weight Room
Days/Time: Mondays & Wednesdays @ 3-4pm (Sophie)
Dates: October 27, 2014 – November 19, 2014 (4 weeks)
Registration Opens: Monday, October 6th
Registration Closes: Wednesday, October 22nd
TRX FUSION SPECIALTY SERIES

Love training with the TRX, but don’t have the time to sign up for a specialty fitness class? We will be offering three TRX classes this semester outside of our specialty fitness class series. ALL of the proceeds go tostudent leaders in Campus Recreation. These leaders are a part of a student group called CIRSA, where they engaged in professional development through leadership opportunities and conference attendance!

To sign up for these classes, please register in advance here (space is limited; UNC campus recreation membership required; no refunds). 

Cost: $5 per class
Location: RHRC Court 1
TRX – Pilates Fusion (Lauren)
Monday, November 17th from 4-5 PM
TRX – Boot Camp Fusion (Sophie)
Thursday, November 13th from 4-5 PM
Thursday, November 20th from 4-5 PM
Registration opens: Monday, October 27th
Closes: Monday, November 10th
Get Fit and Support Campus Rec Student Leaders!

Increase Your Strength and Tone Those Arms with Group Fitness

Earlier this week, I took advantage of the fact that I had no labs to attend since it’s Fall Break week and decided to check out two group fitness classes that I had never before attended at the SRC. On Monday, I attended Muscle Cut Barbells, instructed by Meg, and on Tuesday I attended Upper Body Conditioning with Sabrina.

In the muscle cut barbells class, you use a step, a mat, and a barbell with your choice of weight on it. The bars used for this class are different than the larger bars used in the weight room downstairs in the SRC. The weight room bars weigh approximately 45 pounds before any free weights are added to them, while the bars for the group fitness class weigh less than 5 pounds, allowing you to control exactly how much weight you want to use with the free weights. The free weights used for the class are 10 lb., 5 lb., and 2.5 lb. weights. Because the class is an hour long and you’ll be using the barbell for the majority of the class time, you’ll want to use considerably less weight than you can actually bench press—in fact, you may want to cut your maximum bench press weight in half, at least. This class is about increasing strength, muscle tone, and endurance incrementally, so when I asked, Meg suggested starting out with only 30 pounds on the bar. I also brought two extra 5 lb. and 2.5 lb. free weights to my step with me so that you can both use the free weight alone and adjust your weight during the class for the different exercises.

This class used a huge variety of exercises to target not just arms and legs, but abs, chest, back, and shoulders as well! This is another reason you’re not going to want to try to use too much weight, because if you do you might not be able to move the next day. When we weren’t using the bar, we used free weights (which are the weight plates for the bar without actually putting them on the bar) to target some muscles, including triceps. I thought that Meg was a fantastic instructor and was great about giving tips throughout the class to help you make sure you’re maintaining proper form to protect your joints. I also really appreciated the fact that she wasn’t one of those instructors who acts like what they’re telling you to do is the easiest thing in the world; you could definitely feel that she was working along with you as she taught and that she was feeling the burn too, and I like that. I left this class feeling tired but awesome, and I was impressed that I could get such a fantastic weightlifting workout at the SRC without ever stepping into the sweaty weight room.

On Tuesday, I went to the upper body conditioning class taught by Sabrina even though I knew my arms were already exhausted because I wanted to be able to compare the two classes and next week I’ll be spending my Tuesday evening in dreaded lab again. This class uses a step, a mat, a resistance band, and one set each of light dumbbells and heavy dumbbells based on what works for you. I used 5 lb. and 8lb. dumbbells, which both actually seem pretty heavy when you’re holding your arms straight out to the sides and keeping them there for several seconds. Also, who knew that a simple resistance band could have your arms quaking within seconds and that by the end of the class even holding a simple plank position seems impossibly difficult on your new arms that now feel like Harry Potter’s after Professor Lockhart accidentally dissolved his bones.

The class also incorporated short ab workout sequences in between sets of arm workouts, which gave my arms a nice break and focused on strengthening the core, which is essential to proper form in all weight lifting workouts. I appreciated that Sabrina gave variations of the exercises for when my arms were too tired to do the hardest level of tricep dips on the step and that she left time to do some really good stretching at the end of the class, which I definitely needed. Sometimes it seems like the stretching is a rushed afterthought to a workout class, but she seemed to really appreciate the necessity of it and my arms were also quite appreciative of that.

If you’re not accustomed to regular weight lifting, you’ll likely be sore no matter what level of weight you use or how much stretching you do afterwards. Check out my blog from earlier this week on foam rolling to release the muscle tension in your legs especially to prevent unnecessary soreness! After these workouts, I foam rolled my leg muscles and barely felt much soreness at all the next day, even if I couldn’t quite touch my toes like I normally can. However, I wasn’t exactly sure how I could use a foam roll on my arms, and the next few days were a testament to that as I tried to appear nonchalant every time I struggled just to lift my own backpack onto my back between classes.

Overall, both classes were excellent and left me extremely sore for the next two days, so I know my muscles were definitely working! My suggestions? Don’t go to these two classes two days in a row if you’d like to be able to wash your hair or pull a shirt over your head without grimacing in pain for the rest of the week. Also be sure to check out a towel when you swipe into the SRC to place on top of the grooved surface on top of the step when you do pushups to prevent your palms from looking like pink crinkle cut French fries. If you want to incorporate a fantastic muscle-toning workout into your weekly routine, be sure to check out Muscle Cut Barbells at 6:45pm on Mondays at the SRC and Upper Body Conditioning with Sabrina at 4pm, also at the SRC! And… I’m going to say it one more time… don’t forget to stretch!

Wellness Wednesday: Sickness Prevention

Have you been sick recently? I know that my family is just coming out of a persistent and lingering head cold that turned into a fever, lot of coughing, and a double ear infection for my daughter. I also heard that folks around campus were talking about the #uncplague. Yep, it is that time of year again: Cold and Flu season, which warrants the annual reminder about what to do to not get sick.

And I have three suggestions:

The world is certainly on high alert right now when it comes to contagious diseases, with thousands of people in Western Africa suffering and dying from Ebola, and cases starting to pop up in the United States and across the globe. However, the Flu kills many more people each year on average than Ebola ever has. According to the CDC the number of deaths due to the flu has ranged from as low as 3,000 to as high as 49,000 per year in the United States in recent years. And the Flu is often spread by people getting the Flu virus on their hands from touching something that a sick person has coughed, sneezed on, or touched and then touching their face. You may remember from the movie Contagion that people touch their face 2,000 to 3,000 times a day. This might be a bit of an overestimate, but in a recent study, random people touched their face 3.6 times an hour and with the same hand also touched common objects that others touched 3.3 times an hour. So wash your hands and stop touching your face so much.

Get a flu shot. You do NOT get the Flu from a Flu shot. Let me say that again: you do NOT get the Flu from a Flu shot. Some people do get a low-grade fever and headache from the vaccine, but this is just the body reacting to the foreign substance, not the Flu. According to the CDC, vaccines given to children have saved more than 732,000 lives and trillions of dollars over the last 2 decade. There is also absolutely no evidence that the Flu vaccine –or any other vaccines– present significant harm, and the idea that vaccines cause autism is a complete myth. The worst that could happen is that the Flu shot does not provide protection for the strain of the Flu that is being passed around but, even in that case, there is nothing lost by getting the shot. Most people who work in public health will agree that vaccinations are one of the most important innovations of modern medicine and protect not only the individual getting the shot, but others around them.

Lastly, if you are sick, stay home. Email your professors, let group partners know that you are sick, or tell your coaches that you cannot come to practice. I am as guilty as anyone I know of breaking this rule regularly, and there is still part of me that thinks I just need to “tough it out” and work through it. Unfortunately, our society often still rewards or finds it admirable when individuals fight through a sickness, so we need to set a good example. But don’t take advantage of sickness either or else when you truly are sick, people will not buy it. If you have a sniffle or a tickle in your throat I might not advise that you lay in bed all day, but if you truly are sick, you are protecting others by staying home. You also most likely will not get much out of being in class or at a meeting if you feel like crap.

So wash your hands, get your shot, and stay home when you feel bad. It will help you and the rest of us as well. (Oh, make sure you sleep, exercise, get lots of antioxidants, and stay hydrated as well)

Wellness Wednesday blog posts are written by Student Wellness or Campus Health Services staff members. Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on healthyheels.wordpress.com.

How to Foam Roll

Think about that feeling when you wake up the day after an intense workout and as soon as you move to get out of bed you can’t help but groan because you’re so sore. Now think about how having someone else massage an especially sore muscle or doing it yourself can hurt but feel good at the same time. Lifting weights, general strenuous exercise and even stressful daily activities can cause our muscles to feel tight and sore. We can even get “muscle knots,” as people like to call them, where a particular area of muscle feels uncomfortably tight and stretching just doesn’t release the tension enough to feel completely normal. Firmly massaging these “muscle knots” with a thumb can even cause pain to radiate out to the surrounding muscle, even though that’s not where you’re touching.

For quite some time, athletes and personal trainers have been using a simple secret to release this muscle tension and discomfort: the foam roll. A foam roll is exactly what it sounds like, a cylindrical piece of hard foam, and it is designed especially for use in self-massaging sore and tight muscles! The official name of what most people casually refer to as “foam rolling,” is self-myofascial release, which means to massage your own muscles to release tightness and soreness. I prefer the fun verbified form of the noun, so I’ll call it foam rolling.

The first time I learned to use a foam roll, I actually wasn’t feeling very sore at all, nor could I identify any especially tight muscles; I was just doing it because I was learning how to do so in a fitness class. However, we started by rolling the quads and hamstrings and I quickly realized that whether you think you do or not, you probably have a lot of muscle tension that could benefit from some foam rolling! I usually have fairly tight hamstrings, so as soon and I put the pressure of my body weight down onto the roll and started moving it down the back of my thigh, there was definitely some major discomfort involved!

Now, why would I do something painful, you might ask? Foam rolling muscle pain is one of those “it hurts, but in a good way” kind of muscle feelings. Stretching, or a deep tissue massage, can also be painful, yet people still do it voluntarily and claim to feel better afterward. This is a similar situation and you’re just going to have to trust me until you try it when I say that you’ll feel so much better afterward.

Here are the basics of how foam rolling works. First, start with your foam roll, comfortable clothing, and some space to lay on the floor. You’ll pick a muscle that you want to target, and we’ll just stick with the hamstring example for now. Your hamstring muscle runs down the back of your leg from the bottom of your gluts down to the back of your knee. Start by placing the foam roller under your leg at the top of one of your hamstrings, stretching out that leg and leaning back so that your hands are on the floor behind you and are holding you up slightly. Then, slowly release your arms so that your hands are still on the floor behind you but the majority of your body weight is resting on the foam roller. Then start to move yourself backward over the roller slowly, so that it rolls down toward the back of your knee. This is where you might start to feel some discomfort, so listen to your own body to tell you whether you’re feeling pain (bad) or discomfort (good), and use your arms to lift some of your body weight off of the roller if it becomes painful.

photo 2

Here I am, foam rolling my hammies for you guys.

Now, there are a few key rules to remember when foam rolling to keep it safe for your body:

  1. Always roll very slowly to achieve maximum benefits, and when you find an especially sore spot, pause there to let that point relax and prevent unnecessary pain
  2. Never roll over a joint or directly on a bone. Doing so can cause more harm than good. An example of rolling over a joint would be rolling down your hamstring all the way down to your calf, because you’ve rolled over your knee joint. Instead, roll down to just above the knee, move the roll beneath the knee, and then continue to roll over the calf. An example of rolling over a bone would be laying on your stomach and rolling up your quad over your hipbone. Any bones that you can clearly feel are not protected by muscle and you shouldn’t be rolling over them.
  3. Do not roll your lower back or neck muscles. These are more sensitive to damage, and your pain in these areas might be coming from a problem that needs to addressed by a professional, such as a chiropractor.
  4. Do not roll the same areas over and over in a short period of time. If you concentrate on a certain muscle group, wait at least 24 hours to roll that muscle group again to give it time to relax and heal.
  5. Always roll with the grain of the muscle. Your hamstring runs vertically down your leg, so you should never roll horizontally across your hamstring muscle. It’s best to actually keep your rolling in a single direction, so after your roll down your hamstring, remove the roll and start back up at the top if you’re going to do it again instead of rolling back up the hamstring.

Here is an awesome article called “How to Foam Roll Like a Pro!” It includes cartoon graphics to help you know how to target certain muscles! I have to say that I think that place that is consistently most uncomfortable yet most beneficial to me is rolling my IT band, which is the muscle that runs down the outer side of your leg above the knee. Try rolling yours and tell me if that doesn’t make you make some crazy faces because you had no idea how much tension you had to release there.

photo 4-1

Rolling the IT band; I’m still smiling because I wasn’t actually putting my full body weight on that thing at this point. The simultaneous laughing and cringing comes later.

Shortly after you foam roll, and especially the next day, you should start to feel your soreness fade, your muscles become more relaxed, and your range of motion increase compared to before you foam rolled! You can purchase your own foam roller at any major sporting goods store for anywhere from $10-$40 depending on how intense you want to get, but you can also check out foam rollers from the front desk of the Student Recreation Center on campus for convenient and free use!

P.S. Side comment– I have no idea why a hunk of foam can cost $40.

Try it out the next time you come to work out and make it a regular part of your routine! I can’t lie, I almost kind of like the sore feeling in my muscles after a good workout because it makes me feel like I’ve done something worthwhile when I can actually feel the change, but what I don’t like is constant or long-lingering soreness and foam rolling definitely helps me prevent that from happening! Ironically enough, it can also help you wake up and start your day in the morning if you have time, but can still help you relax and feel ready to sleep if you choose to do it at the end of the day. It might feel silly at first, but give it a try and you’ll see why it’s worth it! I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing some foam rolling this week after I attend the “muscle-cut barbells” and “upper body conditioning” group fitness classes; be sure to check back in at the end of the week to read my reviews on what I thought about both classes!

Happy Fall Break everyone! :)

Kids ROCK and the Power of Positive Role Models

In the past, parents stood at the kitchen sink, looking out the window to keep an eye on their rambunctious kids running around the front yard playing with siblings or friends. They worried about the risks to their children as they watched, hoping to avoid any scratches, scrapes, bruises, and certainly broken bones. Today, more parents stand at the kitchen sink washing dishes, looking out the window at an empty front yard that needs mowing as their children sit on the couch watching TV in the background. The bicycles, baseballs, and sneakers sit abandoned and long-untouched, and parents need not worry so much about cuts, bruises, and broken arms. But, as those parents stand in the kitchen looking into an empty yard, do they worry about the risks to their children as they watch? Risks such as juvenile obesity and diabetes that can’t be fixed with some Neosporin and a Band-Aid?

These health risks are on the rise for all Americans, not just children, as portion sizes become larger, unhealthy food becomes more convenient, and physical activity gets pushed to the side by the latest TV show, video game, app, or pure lack of time. However, increased incidence of obesity and diabetes are of especial concern among children in the US as these diseases can persist for a lifetime if healthy habits are not established at a young age. Type II diabetes not only costs significant amounts of money for the long-term care required, but also causes nerve and kidney damage over time. Obesity can cause increased risk for a variety of cancers and other diseases raise the cost of healthcare significantly over a lifetime, and cause decreased self-confidence, especially in children.

To combat this rising incidence of childhood obesity and Type II diabetes, Campus Recreation hosts special events known as Kids ROCK each year, which stands for Recreational Opportunities for Carolina Kids. Generous Carolina student athletes, faculty, and staff contribute their time to hosting this free program that gives other Carolina students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to play and be active with their kids in a fun and safe setting. The next and last Kids ROCK event of the semester will be held on Saturday, November 22 from 10am-12pm in Fetzer Hall, Gym C. The UNC varsity gymnastics team will be at this session teaching, spotting, providing encouragement, and generally interacting with the kids. This event is free, so if you would like to attend or know someone who would like to attend with their child, the only requirement is registering here online at least 2 days before the event takes place!

Earlier in the semester, on Saturday, September 13, the women’s soccer team joined the Kids ROCK program to teach and participate in drills and skills with the children in attendance. Kerry O’Sullivan, a mother who attended the soccer themed Kids Rock program, said that her seven-year-old daughter “was proud to be practicing with the UNC women’s soccer team and wanted to impress them. “ The program provided her daughter, and all children in attendance, with some great exercise and encouragement that being active can be fun, and fulfilled the original purpose of promoting more physical activity among children in the Carolina community.

However, Ms. O’Sullivan believes that an even greater achievement was accomplished by the program. She said, “Not only did [my daughter] receive two hours of exercise, skills and drills practice, but perhaps most importantly, she received a chance to meet some tremendous female athletes who could be role models for her.” By having the chance to interact and play soccer with some of the very best soccer players at UNC, kids who participated in the program were able to see the results of what practice and dedication can achieve.

Children learn and behave in ways that they learn from observing the actions of others, and they base their expectations of what they can achieve in life from watching role models. When it comes to both learning healthy behaviors and self confidence, having younger role models specific to a child’s interests, such as an interest in soccer, can be a tremendous support to what parents are already teaching and living at home. Unless we want a society of children who know nothing and do nothing outside of the realm of what their parents know and do, we have to find ways to expose them to positive role models that will show them what amazing new things they can achieve.

Concerning the value of having specifically female role models for her daughter, Ms. O’Sullivan said: “I can’t stress enough the importance of seeing, meeting, and playing with successful female athletes for a 7 year-old girl. At her school during recess, the boys play soccer and (according to her) won’t involve the girls. I know she’d like to play with them, but she’s met with the boy’s comments that the girls are not good enough (typical 7 year-old stuff). She plays soccer [for another team] and is pushing herself to improve. Spending Saturday morning with female role models is helpful in building her confidence and belief that she can be as strong an athlete as anyone else.”

We’re so happy that the Kids ROCK program has gone beyond the important goal of promoting family and child physical activity and has provided positive role models for the participants. We encourage parents to teach their children healthy habits and to bring them to participate in upcoming Kids ROCK events related to your child’s specific interests! We also encourage everyone to do their part to be a positive role model for the children who need them and to provide encouragement and support for the young children that you may come into contact with.

A big thank you goes out to the women’s soccer team and the gymnastics team for the time they give to the Kids ROCK program! The soccer team even stayed afterward to take pictures and sign autographs for the kids to make them feel special and to help them remember the day! We also owe thanks to the staff and guest instructors who help everything run smoothly and help to keep the program free to participants! Thank you to Kerry O’Sullivan for letting us know about your daughter’s great experience and we hope that the program will be able to provide more motivation to stay active and more positive role models to kids in Chapel Hill next month!

Have You Been Outdoors Lately?

A cooling fall breeze, the rustling of leaves, and birds serenading your every step. This could be your reality if you were to take part in an expedition with UNC Campus Rec.

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Last semester, I kayaked as part of an expedition with UNC Campus Rec. The entire experience was both rewarding and fun—not to mention the chance to get away from campus for a weekend! I bonded with my expedition crew and we shared jokes and laughs getting to know each other.

Trained wilderness instructors lead the expeditions. At the beginning of the trip, the instructors will teach you basic outdoor survival skills. After you have those down, it will be up to your group to decide the direction of your trek. Rest day or hike all day? Completely the prerogative of your crew!

Worried that you won’t be physically fit enough to go on a trek? Calm your nerves, because our expeditions are designed to accommodate all skill level. Treks are demanding by nature, but the progress depends on the group, and everyone is focused on the success of each other. There are three trip levels: Easy, Moderate, and Strenuous.

Upcoming Expeditions:

10/11: Pilot Mountain, Climbing (register ASAP)

“The 60′ quartzite cliffs of Pilot Moutain provide the perfect introduction to outdoor top-rope climbing. Your team will learn knots, belaying, climbing technique, and safety management. This climbing expedition always provides plenty of challenge and creates lasting friendships!”

10/15–10/19: Wilson Creek, Wilderness Perspectives, Backpacking (register ASAP)

“Folks have been asking for this trip for years! Modeled after Wilderness Adventures for First Year Students (WAFFYS), this intensive wilderness experience offers an unparalleled opportunity for self-reflection by escaping the responsibilties and distractions of civilization. You and your group explore the wilderness of the Southern Appalachians. Instructors will teach you the skills to succeed and allow you to lead your own experience. Nightly debriefs, solo time and evening conversations will encourage you to reflect on who you are, what you’re doing and  where you are going in life.”

Ready to get going? To check out all of the trips this semester, and to register for your trek, click here: http://campusrec.unc.edu/expeditions

Wellness Wednesday: The Health Benefits of Altruism

by Diana Sanchez

It takes on many forms: paying it forward, peer-to-peer support, volunteering, being there for a friend or partner. Altruism, the concern for well-being of others, is a powerful part of overall wellness. Doing things for other people can help build relationships and bring meaning to life. And, if that’s not awesome enough, altruistic actions can also have health benefits! Though the spirit of altruism is helping others, it has been shown that altruistic actions have an impact both on others and the person doing altruistic things.

Here are some of the health and wellness benefits of altruism:

  • Increases satisfaction and self-esteem

On a psychological level, doing things for other people through service and volunteering has been shown to be associated with greater positive feelings, well-being, and overall satisfaction. In a study by Sawyer and colleagues, most students surveyed who volunteered for a peer education program found it a valuable activity, and nearly half of those surveyed reported increased self-esteem as a result of participating in the program.

  • Deepens knowledge

Studies of peer education – or programs where a group is taught how to offer education and support to those in similar situations (ex: college students who are trained to provide health education to other students) – show a wide array of benefits to both the educators themselves, and the persons they are educating. In one study, peer educators were found to have increased their own health and wellness knowledge, with 43% adopting healthier behaviors themselves. Interestingly, the same study also found that some (20%) students participating in peer education programs also changed their career direction as a result of participating in the program.

  • Enhances cultural acuity

By being of service to others and advocating for their needs, activities like peer support and volunteerism can help build awareness and perspective. In the study by Sawyer et al, 20% of those participating in peer education programs were more open to students’ behaviors and opinions. Altruistic activities can challenge one to think about issues that another person or group is facing, and increase empathy as a result –important components of cultural wellness.

  • Acts as a powerful motivator for individual and population-level behavior change

Mind experiment: pick a health behavior –anything from vaccination, to screening, or smoking cessation. Now think about the following questions: do you want to do this behavior for yourself? How about committing to the health behavior for the benefit of others (partners, family, friends, community members)?

For many behaviors, the desire to perform or commit to a given behavior can be based on a mix of personal versus interpersonal motivations. In a personal example, I recently thought about hand-washing in my house. Don’t get me wrong: I definitely appreciate the importance of hand washing! But, when I thought about it, the desire to wash my hands to keep my partner healthy was as much, or possibly more, of a motivator for me than me washing my hands for my own health’s sake. In yet another example, with behaviors like getting the flu shot each year, it can often be very powerful to consider the benefits both for oneself (i.e., you are less likely to get the flu), and to others (i.e., it reduces flu transmission to the population). All in all, altruistic reasons for adopting healthy behaviors can be extremely powerful – sometimes more so than the reasons you have for adopting change just to help yourself.

Getting Involved

Interested in getting involved in service and volunteering programs on the UNC campus? There are some fantastic service opportunities through the Carolina Center for Public Service, one of Student Wellness’ peer groups, or Student Wellness’ interpersonal violence prevention trainings. Be sure to check out our recent Healthy Heels blog post on being a more conscious volunteer.

It’s important to note that the health benefits of altruistic actions are not limited to formal service and volunteering opportunities. Every day, smaller actions that consider other people’s needs and feelings or help others can also have a powerful impact for oneself and for campus culture.

Wellness Wednesday blog posts are written by Student Wellness or Campus Health Services staff members. Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on healthyheels.wordpress.com.

Maintaining Mental Health as a Student

While being college students can be one of the best and most fun parts of our lives so far in some ways, in many other ways it can also be one of the hardest periods of our lives as well. Contrary to what the movies portray, there is a lot more to being a successful college student than hanging out on campus with friends and partying on the weekends. The college environment can cause a ton of stress that we’ve never experienced before or that can quickly become overwhelming. Whether we consciously realize it or not, there are some common stressors to college students that can have serious impacts on our mental health:

  • Trying to do everything—often we want to be involved in clubs, sports, student government, be successful in school, make time for friend on the weekend, be religiously active, be involved in Greek life, make time for exercise, be the president of everything, have a part-time job, get that internship, and snatch up that volunteering position at the hospital. You can’t do everything, and trying to all of the time will make you exhausted, kill your immune system, and leave you feeling like you’ve failed because you haven’t accomplished everything, when in fact you have accomplished many amazing things every day.
  • Not getting enough sleep—this goes right along with trying to do everything. Not making enough time for sleep is common among college students, and I promise, I know it’s SO HARD when you’re just trying to get your homework done. We want to do more and sleep less, but our bodies have limitations and everything in the world looks more sad, more daunting, more frustrating, miserable, and impossible when you’re tired. Eight hours can’t happen every night, but if you stay up super late the night before that test, try to come home and take a nap afterward or try to get a SOLID eight hours the next night or as soon as possible.
  • Not staying connected with family and friends—Just because we’re living on our own and we’re busy trying to be independent doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still make time for family and friends. Try to call your family to say hello once a week and see how everyone is doing and hear about what funny thing the dog did this week. Keep in touch with high school friends who don’t go to the same school as you anymore. Having a network of people who you trust, can talk to, complain to, and know that they care for you can make you happier even when things get hard.
  • Excessive pressure to succeed—This pressure can come from our parents, ourselves, or others. First, you have to recognize and decide to act on the fact that you make your own decisions and you have to learn to choose what makes you happiest. Then you have to realize that not everyone succeeds at everything; life has its ups and down, everyone fails sometimes, and yes, everyone also fails tests at some point, too. Learn to recognize your limitations and to appreciate the successes that you do have, even and especially the small ones.

These are just four things that contribute to unhealthy levels of stress in college students and can develop into mental health problems if they are left unaddressed. There is a stigma associated with the term “mental health issues,” but everyone deals with versions of mental distress at some point in their lives. Time in college is a time where there is increased occurrence of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, eating disorders, and high-risk health behaviors such as binge drinking and risky sexual behaviors – all of which are mental health concerns (1).

Learn to know your mind and your body to recognize when stress becomes something more serious and needs to be addressed by either changing your own actions and decisions or seeking professional help to maintain your mental wellness. Sometimes you might drink because you’re out having casual fun with your friends, but sometimes you might drink because you need or want to feel something other than the stress of schoolwork or a relationship, and at first you may barely even recognize a conscious difference. However, there IS a difference between being stressed about a test and reaching the point where that stress becomes dangerous or unhealthy. If you reach a stress level where you feel physically ill because of the stressor or you feel that you cannot control your stress on your own, you need to seek help and there is absolutely no shame in that. If you can’t sleep or feel like you have to act in a way that could be dangerous to your health, including excessive drinking, substance abuse, or physically dangerous behaviors to cope with your stress, these are also behaviors that signal that it’s time to find someone who lives outside of your body and your mind to help you regain control.

Here is the link to more information about counseling and psychological services on campus that you can access for free if you feel that you need help maintaining your mental health at its peak: https://campushealth.unc.edu/services/counseling-and-psychological-services. You can drop in to talk to someone on the spot and make a plan to receive continued care, if needed. Even if you access campus health services and feel that all of your needs are not being met, they can provide you with the resources to receive additional, long-term mental health assistance off campus as well and they are a great place to start. You can even take a quick mental health assessment online to help you know where to start and you can access an online anxiety and stress management training session to get some additional tips.

I wanted to address this topic because although Fall Break is coming up so soon, I know that now is a high-stress time for most students on campus as midterms and assignments threaten to drown us every day. You don’t have to do everything on your own if it starts to feel like too much. University career and academic services can even help you if your stress is coming from looking for a job, applying to grad school, worrying about the future, or not knowing how to effectively study for tests or get your homework done on time. Even though you don’t want to, you may need to drop a class or just one thing on your huge list of involvement/responsibilities to make life this semester feel more manageable. UNC Campus Recreation wants you to be healthy in all senses of the word, and we recognize that physical health is not the only factor, even though improving physical health is our specific focus.

Take the initiative to do the little, manageable things that you can do on your own to maintain and improve your own mental health and manage stress. Keep in touch with friends and family, make time to eat and sleep, and try to get some exercise whenever you can since it’s been proven to be amazingly effective at battling stress and depression. Doing something as simple as listening to a “classical music for studying” station on Pandora while you do your homework, or putting something that you find beautiful or inspirational on the wall that you face when you sit at your desk can improve your mood and remind you to be happy.

Looking at a piece of artwork or a bulletin board of pictures in my room or listening to music while I study reminds me that there is so much more in my life than the test I’m studying for. It reminds me to be aware of the bigger picture, to remember to smile, and to remember, as my mom always taught me, that things will somehow work out in the end, even when you can’t see how. My life, and your life, will be full of amazing moments and years of happiness that will make you forget completely about failing your first chemistry test or not getting into your first-choice school or program. You deserve to live in a state where you can find joy and peace with the world, as cheesy as it sounds. You deserve to have far more happy days than sad or angry ones. You are a huge part of the process, but sometimes you can’t do it alone. Do what you can to maintain and be aware of your mental health during these crazy college years, and if you decided that you do need help, don’t delay and remember that the resources exist because there are many, many people in your shoes who need a hand to get back up to where they want to be in their lives.

Sources:

  1. http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2014/03/11/2965947/tips-for-college-students-to-maintain.html
  2. http://healthservices.camden.rutgers.edu/topics_wellness
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