Fast Food Wants a Facelift

Many consider the “beginning” of the fast-food concept to have its origin in early twentieth century America. However, even ancient Rome had outdoor kitchens in neighborhoods that sold cheap, hearty meals to travelers and locals living in cramped quarters without kitchens. For thousands of years, people have wanted and needed cheap, quickly available foods, and today the demand is greater than ever (1).

The beginnings of fast food as we know it today in the U.S. were found in Wichita, Kansas in 1921 in a white-washed establishment known as “White Castle.” White Castle improved the poor reputation of hamburger meat at the time by maintaining a clean establishment where customers could actually see them making fresh, high quality, and delicious hamburgers ready to grab and go. The big boom of fast food in America had to wait thirty more years until 1951, when most families in the US owned a car, the McDonald brothers restaurants were spreading across the country, and the term “fast food” found its way into the Merriam-Webster dictionary (1,2).

Today, fast food restaurants dot even the smallest cities in America, and sales are still incredibly high. In the last few years, however, as obesity and diabetes incidence in the US has continuously increased, it seems that we may be in the midst of a food renaissance where people have once again started to care about the quality of their food rather than just the taste, price, and convenience of it.

In many places around the country, high-quality food has now become a trend, but it is definitely a trend with a steep price– something the fast food industry has a hard time embracing. Instead of cheap burgers and burritos, even many college students want exotic, organic, GMO-free, “raw,” and “whole” foods, not just for themselves, but for others to know what kind of trendy, healthy eaters they are as well. Sure, everyone still knows all about McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and of course the lionized Cookout, but these aren’t the most popular restaurants in a college town such as Chapel Hill. Instead, business is booming at Whole Foods, local farmer’s markets, and restaurants with daily scratch-made creations such as Mediterranean Deli and Panera Bread.

This renaissance of quality over price and quantity extends beyond college towns and across the country, which is great news for public health, but less-than-great news for fast food chains. Deep fried, greasy, calorie-dense foods commonly found at most fast food restaurants have lost their place in the lives of people concerned with eating for their health and investing their money in higher-priced, higher-quality foods. In their struggle to stay relevant and keep up with customer expectations, fast food and fast, casual dining restaurants are making some major changes to their well-known menus to accommodate the preferences of an audience who has left them behind.

Many big-name restaurants are paying attention to the ingredients that the health-conscious public are shunning and are struggling, but often succeeding, at finding ways to remove them entirely or replace them with more wholesome and socially accepted ingredients instead. For example, a teenager with a petition succeeded in getting Gatorade to remove brominated vegetable oil from their products after people realized that it was an ingredient that is still unapproved as a food additive in many foreign markets (3). Additionally, the McDonald’s USA president made a statement that the company was working on simplifying the ingredient labels of many of the product, and in doing this we might expect to see a vast reduction in the added chemicals and preservatives found in the iconic fast food. After all, Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said:

“Sometimes, food additives can be crutches or insurance policies. If a food is frozen, germs aren’t going to grow. But preservatives might be added just in case, or they may be used just because their supplier has been using it for so long (3).”

In a setting such as McDonald’s, where business requires constant flow of food in and out of the restaurant, people are realizing that the preservatives and chemicals in the food are likely unnecessary when the food never has a chance to sit in the restaurant long enough to require “preservation.”

Even Subway, which if often thought of as a “healthy” fast food restaurant already, now advertises that they have removed all artificial flavors and preservatives from their grilled chicken strips, and Chick-fil-a removed high-fructose corn syrup from their sandwich buns and stripped their dressings of artificial dyes (4,5).

Carl’s Jr. has released hints of their super bowl commercial for 2015 already, featuring a scantily clad model who likes to go “all natural” so much that she walks around naked whilst eating her new “all-natural grass-fed burger” with no added hormones, antibiotics, or steroids (6).

Even Panera and Chipotle, both already known for serving delicious food with wholesome ingredients, have vowed to make changes. Panera promised a menu free of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives by 2016, and Chipotle just released their organic tofu Sofritas items yesterday. This new menu item even came with the promise that if you bought a Sofritas item on the release date, you can bring your receipt back for a free burrito of your choice next time you visit (7,8). (Not going to lie, this offer totally worked on me and the Sofritas burrito was delicious; you can’t even tell that you’re eating tofu!)

Whether it’s a temporary trend or a true dedication to higher quality food, the American dietary renaissance is certainly having a positive effect on the way fast food restaurants make and serve their food. All it takes is a public preference for healthier, more responsible, and still reasonably priced foods to have the fast food industry scrambling for a facelift as they work to keep customers, old and new, coming back for more.

Sources:

3. The Associated Press. “Revamping Junk Food’s Image.” The News Herald 4 Jan. 2015, Health sec.: D2. Print.

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How Does Fluoride Benefit Your Teeth?

The other morning, I was standing there brushing my teeth with a new kind of sensitivity toothpaste I’ve been trying lately and I was reading the toothpaste tube while brushing. (What, you don’t do that every day?) I read something along the lines of “fluoride formula helps to strengthen teeth and rebuild weakened enamel, protecting against acid erosion and dental cavities.” Well, I thought, that sounds pretty good. I’m sure my enamel could use some strengthening and rebuilding. However, being the skeptic that I am, I wanted to know if this was a legitimate claim, or if my overpriced toothpaste was just a bundle of attractive packaging and false advertising. (You see, this is why I love writing this blog; it gives me an excuse to indulge my curiosity without feeling like I’m wasting my time with random, short research projects when I should be doing my other homework.)

What is fluoride?

We hear about fluoride all the time, whether it’s in the context of water, toothpaste, mouthwash, or a trip to the dentist. The earth is made of elements, which are the purest chemical substances. One of these elements is fluorine, represented by the letter F. Fluoride is the ionized version of the element fluorine, meaning that it is a charged atom with one extra electron. The negative charge is represented by writing F-. Fluorine is a very abundant element in the earth’s crust, so it’s no surprise that fluoride can be found naturally in water, soil, and the food that required this water and soil to grow (1).

Fluoride can also be made in labs so that it can be used in and added to many familiar products, including municipal drinking water, toothpaste, mouthwash, and professional dental fluoride foams, rinses, and varnishes.

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Why would we want added fluoride in our water and toothpaste?

The story of how the dental benefits of fluoride were discovered was a fascinating epidemiological mystery that took years to solve. In the early 1900’s, dental cavities were a widespread problem, and dentistry was more of a practice that solved problems rather than being focused on prevention. However, in 1901, a young dental researcher named Frederick McKay moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado to open a dental practice, and was shocked to find that many people who lived in Colorado Springs had dark, splotchy, brown stains covering all of their teeth! Not only were the stains permanent, but in the worst cases, entire teeth could be the color of chocolate, and yet no record of concern or recognition from any dental professionals concerning this problem could be found! Furthermore, despite the dark brown stains on the teeth of children and adults native to the area, their teeth were surprisingly resistant to cavities and decay!

Another researcher named Dr. G.V. Black came to the area to work on discovering the source of the problem, and made the following observation about the children of Colorado Springs:

“I spent considerable time walking on the streets, noticing the children in their play, attracting their attention and talking with them about their games, etc., for the purpose of studying the general effect of the deformity. I found it prominent in every group of children. One does not have to search for it, for it is continually forcing itself on the attention of the stranger by its persistent prominence. This is much more than a deformity of childhood. If it were only that, it would be of less consequence, but it is a deformity for life.”

Hypotheses about the possible reasons for the mottled teeth were investigated for years until the death of Dr. Black. In 1923, Dr. McKay received reports from parents in Oakley, Colorado, who began noticing dark brown stains on their children’s teeth. McKay discovered that just before the stains began appearing, a new water pipeline to a nearby spring had been constructed in Oakley. He analyzed the water, but could find nothing suspicious. He did not give up on his theory that the water supply might be part of the problem, however, and he recommended that the town abandon usage of that water pipeline altogether. They took his advice, and within a few years there were no new stains occurring and the children with the stains did not develop new stains when their teeth fell out and were replaced by secondary teeth.

After publishing a report of this discovery, the chief chemist of the Aluminum Company of America, H.V.Churchill, requested samples of the water in the areas with the brown stains and did a more sophisticated spectrophotographic analysis. He found that in repeated trials, the areas with the stains always had high levels of fluoride in their water! Dr. McKay’s hunch had finally come to fruition!

Further study found that fluoride levels in water as high as 1.0 parts per million caused no mottling of the teeth, now known as dental fluorosis. After a large discussion with a panel of varying health officials, Grand Rapids, Michigan became the first city to add lab-made fluoride to the municipal water supply in 1944. After just eleven years of observation in the dental health of inhabitants of this city, no fluorosis was observed and the rate of dental cavities among the 30,000 schoolchildren monitored decreased by an amazing 60%!

This was a huge accomplishment for both American public health and the field of dentistry, as it began the pattern of practicing dentistry with a prevention-oriented mindset in the United States (2). Municipal water sources throughout the US are now commonly fluoridated and closely monitored for the health of all who drink it!

How does fluoride actually work to make the teeth stronger?

The primary source of the impressive strength of tooth enamel comes from calcium hydroxyapatite crystals, which are made of calcium, phosphate, and hydroxide ions. With an appropriate amount of daily fluoridation through fluoridated water and toothpaste or mouthwash, some of the hydroxide ions (OH-) are replaced with fluoride ions (F-). Because fluorine is the most electronegative element, the bonds formed with the fluoride ions are more tightly or strongly bound and are therefore more resistant to the corrosive effects of the acid formed by the sugar-fed bacteria in our mouths. This is the mechanism by which fluoride reduces the incidence of dental cavities in the areas where the water supply is appropriately supplemented with fluoride (3)!

Apart from my dental health, is fluoridated water safe for my health overall? I don’t exactly get to choose whether or not they fluoridate the water where I live!

The American Dental Association’s website hosts their statement on the matter:

“The American Dental Association unreservedly endorses the fluoridation of community water supplies as safe, effective and necessary in preventing tooth decay. This support has been the Association’s position since policy was first adopted in 1950 (4).”

National supplementation regimens can only be upheld if they show no harm and a high benefit to those who consume the supplemented products. Just as folic acid supplementation in bread began nation-wide in 1994 after it was proven to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects among newborns in the US, fluoride supplementation in water is a valuable epidemiological contribution to the field of public health and dentistry in the United States in the twentieth century.

Images from freedigitalphotos.net

Learn how to swim with UNC Campus Recreation

swimmer

The ability to swim is an important human ability. Not only can swimming be a fun way to cool off on a steamy summer day, it could also save your life if you were to fall into a body of water. Don’t get caught off guard – learn how to swim this year!

Campus Recreation at the University of North Carolina is offering 28 different swim classes this semester. Classes range from beginner to expert for youth and adults. Don’t worry if you have no prior experience – a novice class will teach you the basics of staying afloat and learning how to swim. Private and group classes are offered, depending on your preferences. Classes are taught 7 Monday through Saturday, so there’s a class to fit your busy schedule.

Click here to register now.

Dive in for the health of it!

Swimmers have the “best numbers,” reports the Harvard School of Medicine.  These numbers are blood pressure, blood cholesterol, maximum energy output, and cardiovascular ability. Another study found that swimmers had the lowest mortality rate compared to other athletes over the course of 13-year study. Better health and a lower risk of dying – not a bad reason to start swimming, huh?

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Wellness Wednesday: Healthy Tips for Waking Up!

Written by Will McInerney

A Review on the Flu

Every year, without fail, with the beginning of the semester and the fall and winter seasons in North Carolina comes the whispered and shouted concerns of worried parents and paranoid teachers: “The flu, the flu! Wash your hands again! Are you sniffling? You must have the flu. People DIE from the flu!”

This flu season, the flu has been an especially hot topic not because of the flu itself, but because of the widespread criticism and concern about the flu vaccine this year. In early December, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) released a statement saying:

“So far this year, seasonal influenza A H3N2 viruses have been most common. There often are more severe flu illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths during seasons when these viruses predominate. For example, H3N2 viruses were predominant during the 2012-2013, 2007-2008, and 2003-2004 seasons, the three seasons with the highest mortality levels in the past decade. All were characterized as “moderately severe.”

Increasing the risk of a severe flu season is the finding that roughly half of the H3N2 viruses analyzed are drift variants: viruses with antigenic or genetic changes that make them different from that season’s vaccine virus. This means the vaccine’s ability to protect against those viruses may be reduced, although vaccinated people may have a milder illness if they do become infected. During the 2007-2008 flu season, the predominant H3N2 virus was a drift variant yet the vaccine had an overall efficacy of 37 percent and 42 percent against H3N2 viruses (1).”

Almost immediately, articles from reactionists and genuinely concerned people alike were spouting a harsh message that the CDC just “admitted” that the flu vaccine “doesn’t work” this season. The concern is understandable; people seek and pay for flu vaccines, hoping and believing that they will be protected from getting sick and missing valuable work and school time. However, a bit of patience and time put into learning more about the flu vaccine shows that saying that the flu vaccine “doesn’t work” is not a fair claim.

Each year, more than 100 influenza centers in more than 100 countries collect data about the flu around the world, and five worldwide WHO (World Health Organization) collaborating centers collaborate, discuss and research the data and samples from the past flu season. All of this is done to prepare for the WHO Vaccine Composition Meeting, held in February in 2014, to make an educated decision as to which three strains of weakened flu virus should be included in the flu vaccine for the upcoming year. Even with a year’s worth of worldwide data, the best this decision can be is still an educated guess, and a virus spreading among humans is not always predictable (2).

This year, as released in the CDC statement quoted above, the most common strain of flu virus was indeed included as one of the three in the vaccine for 2014-2015, but “roughly half” of the cases caused by this strain were actually caused by a “drift variant” of the strain, meaning that mutations had occurred in this strain since the vaccine was produced, making the vaccine less effective or ineffective against this mutated version of the H3N2 virus. This is not surprising considering that a flu vaccine typically takes up to four or more months to produce, and because the flu season doesn’t typically start in full-swing until nearly 7 or more months after the decision for the vaccine composition is made. This leaves time and opportunity for the virus to change, but not enough time for us to keep up with the time and resources required to change the vaccine (3).

Due to the confounding effects of the drift variant of the most common flu strain this year, the CDC reported that they estimate the flu vaccine to be 61% effective this year (4). This means that the trivalent (containing three viral strains) vaccines still protect against two other strains, as well as non-drift-variant types of the H3N2 flu strain this year. Certain vaccines are also quadrivalent (containing four viral strains), and protect against an additional strain. Not everyone who gets the flu this year will be infected with the mutated viral strain, meaning that getting the flu vaccine this year still dramatically increased your chances of getting through flu season healthy and unscathed. Getting vaccinated can also help people who do become infected with the drift variant strain to have milder symptoms and a less severe case overall (1).

Still not convinced? Additional CDC reports show that in 2013, approximately 90% of children who died from the flu were unvaccinated (5). In the same report that approximated the effectiveness of the vaccine this year, the group with the highest flu incidence this year, adults ages 18-64, were also the most under-vaccinated group. Although this flu season is not over, vaccination statistics from the 2013 flu season showed that “Flu vaccine coverage in the 18- to 64-year-old group in November 2013 was estimated at about 34%, compared with about 41% in children and 62% in those 65 and older (4).”

The quick-to-blame statements that the flu vaccine this season “doesn’t work” was an unfair judgement of the hard work and research done by everyone who did their best to develop the most effective flu vaccine they could this year. I am still glad that I got my flu vaccine on campus in November, and I have (so far, knock on wood) made it though flu-free despite being around my flu-ridden sister (who I love) during the holiday break. Perhaps in the future we will break through into the knowledge of how to make a universal vaccine that targets antigens common to all flu strains, but until then, I’m thankful for the people who are still working hard every year to make their best guess.

Sedentary lifestyle ‘twice as deadly’ as obesity

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It’s common knowledge that a lack of exercise combined with higher-than-normal body fat percentage spells trouble for our health. New research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests, however, that failing to exercise is “twice as deadly” as being obese. The good news is that a “brisk 20-minute walk” is all it to reduce the risk of early death by as much as 30%.

Researchers at Cambridge University poured over lifestyle data from more than 334,000 people over 12 years to search for significant associations between cancer and diet. Professor Ulf Ekelund, who led the study, summarized his findings by saying that “just a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who are physically inactive.”

The largest difference was found between the inactive and moderately inactive groups

Of the approximately 334,000 participants, 21,438 died during the study. Researchers found that the greatest reduction in mortality was the observed for the group that was “moderately inactive,” compared to the “inactive” group. The only difference between these two groups was 20 minutes of exercise with an elevated heart rate.

This isn’t to say that being obese doesn’t have an impact on health or risk of early death. Harvard’s School of Public Health reports that women with a BMI of 30 or higher had a 62% greater risk of dying early from cardiovascular death. Here’s the good news – “5 to 10 percent of body weight can lower blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, and improve other cardiovascular risk factors.”

The takeaway from today’s article? Get in 20 minutes  – or more – of exercise every single day. Exercise could be something as simple as a brisk walk to class, all the way up to an hour-long weight training sessions. There are numerous possibilities, so get out there and make it happen! Find your exercise dream with UNC Campus Recreation.

*All UNC Campus Rec facilities are closed today in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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Will the Cold Weather Actually Give You a Cold?

Pretty much everyone who lives a sizable distance away from the equator has heard someone tell them that if they don’t bundle up before going out into the chilly weather, they’ll certainly get a cold. Some parents are obsessive about making sure their children look like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” before they even let them consider going outside in the winter, and some well-educated adults still love to blame the outdoor temperature for their sniffles and coughs. We’ve had our share of cold weather and plenty of coughs and sneezes in Chapel Hill lately, but when we look into the facts, can the cold actually give you a cold?

Common cold symptoms include a sore throat that lasts for just one or two days, runny nose or nasal congestion, and a cough. Many different mild viruses, including the frequently mentioned rhinovirus, cause these symptoms. (Who knew that rhinos were the real cause of colds!? Sarcasm…) Viruses also cause the flu, which manifests symptoms similar to cold symptoms but with typically higher intensity and duration, and may also include fever, full-body achiness, and extreme exhaustion (1).

Because both cold and flu are caused by viruses, you cannot get a cold simply from being cold. Viral infections must enter the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth by contact with the virus itself, whether you’ve touched an infected desk at school or shared a drink with your significant other (1).

On the other hand, cold temperatures can indeed be an indirect cause of getting a cold. If you are out in the cold for an extended period of time without proper clothing, your overall body temperature will decrease to a point that suppresses the immune system. Cold temperatures can also cause blood vessels in the nose to constrict, leading to a dry nose and less mucus as a defense system in your sinus cavity. This combination of a suppressed immune system and decreased mucus, which is a first line of defense against viruses, can make you more susceptible to being infected by a virus with which you come into contact (2). However, exercising outside in the cold typically keeps the core body temperature from dropping too low, so don’t expect to see any hard-core runners staying indoors just because it feels like a refrigerator outside.

Cold temperatures may also stimulate mild asthma events in asthmatic individuals without causing a full-blown attack. Exposure to the cold may also actually stimulate your immune system to release more of the hormone norepinephrine, which can act as a decongestant and cause your nose to run (2). Many people mistake these symptoms for symptoms of an oncoming cold, and are quick to blame the weather for these naturally occurring events!

In fact, you might be more likely to catch a cold by staying indoors all the time in the winter because others around you are doing the same, creating a great environment for all of those cold-causing viruses to spread between several people in a limited amount of space.

The most effective ways to avoid getting a cold or the flu are not to bundle up or stay inside. Instead, you should wash your hands with warm water and soap often, and keep your hands away from your face! Certainly try to use hand sanitizer or wash your hands before you eat, put in contacts, or even rub your eyes.

As the evidence shows, the old saying that “the cold will give you a cold” turns out to be just a myth. Many sources say this assumption likely carries over from before medical knowledge had progressed enough to understand the immune system and the transmission of disease. People noticed that more people seemed to be sick during cold times of the year (the time we now like to call flu season), so they figured that the cold must be the culprit. People also used to think that swamp air caused malaria, when in fact it was the mosquitoes living near the swamps (2). Luckily, we now know that going out in the cold in shorts and a tee shirt might not give you a cold with coughs and sniffles, but we can’t change the fact that you’ll still look silly.

Enjoy this short video with great illustrations to hear more about other hypotheses that may explain more about the indirect relationship between getting sick, and being cold!

If you decide to venture outside without a jacket this winter, you may refer your worried mother to this article, but you should still try not to shoot your eye out. Stay healthy everyone!

U.S. News & World Report’s #1 Diet of 2015

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Diets seem to come and go like the weather. As soon as new research declares that low-carbohydrate dieting is effective for weight loss, another disproves those findings. The U.S. News & World Report attempts to “cut through the clutter” and deliver a no-nonsense guide to healthy eating and diets.

With a panel of diet, nutrition, psychology, and other experts, the 2015 best diet list ranks fad diets for their true effectiveness – backed up by science. We’re going to take a look at the #1 diet of 2015 and see how it can help you make more nutritious choices.

The DASH Diet – the number one best overall diet for 2015

The DASH diet took the top spot in the diet faceoff. With four stars overall and five stars in nutrition, the DASH diet’s overall aim is to prevent and lower hypertension. It’s no wonder this diet is the most highly rated, as heart-related deaths are among the top causes of preventable death in the U.S.A.

Here are some basic “Do’s and Don’ts” we can learn from the DASH Diet, according to the U.S. News & World Report summary:

Do: Serve up lean poultry and fish in moderation.
Choose these options over more fatty meats, like certain cuts of beef.

Don’t: Add salt to foods
Excess salt contributes to high blood pressure, which strains your heart.

Do: Opt for whole grains and vegetables.
With a diet rich in fiber, calcium, protein, and potassium, you can help prevent high blood pressure.

Do: Eat fruit
Consume nature’s candy, instead of sugary snacks or drinks.

To learn more about the DASH Diet, click here.

Disclaimer: Consult your physician before beginning any diet. I am not a professional, but I am presenting you with findings from other reputable sources.

An Introductory Guide to Taking a Cycle Class: An Informative Personal Review

This week at UNC, Campus Recreation hosted our annual “Spring Into Fitness” week with an exciting group fitness and special events schedule. Here were some of the highlights of the successful week:

• Group fitness classes were twice as big as usual
• Carolina Dining Services hosted an “Eating for Exercise” table in the lobby of the SRC (and literally gave me three full-sized cups and two to-go sized go-gurt style tubes of Chobani Greek Yogurt, which was awesome because I was hungry)
• Free try-before-you-buy classes representing our different Specialty Fitness class offerings this semester
• An “Introduction to Strength Training and Form” class taught by Sophie

Another fantastic offering this week was the chance to take a 30-minute “Introduction to Cycle” class offered at three different times!

Unknown to many regular gym and even group fitness attendees here at UNC, the are FOUR group fitness cycle classes every single Monday-Thursday of the semester, TWO cycle classes every Friday, ONE cycle class every Sunday, and ONE awesome Weekend Warrior cycle-yoga combination class every Saturday of the semester.

If you’ve never attended a class, you may be wondering: what is a cycle class anyway? What kind of group fitness class can you make out of riding a stationary bike? I mean, it’s just riding a bike that you can’t even wreck, right?

Oh how wrong you are, young grasshopper. Here is what you can expect to experience in your first cycle class:

First, let’s establish the location, because getting there could be important. All cycle classes are held in the Fetzer Cycle Studio. To get there, simply enter the SRC and swipe in at the front desk as usual. Turn right, and go past one set of lockers until the floor changes from carpet (is that stuff even actually carpet?) to tile. If you’re standing on a tile floor, you’re now in Fetzer gym. On your left you will see a water fountain, and on your right, across from the water fountain, is a small hallway of squash court entrances. The first door on your left will be the door to the cycle studio.

Inside the cycle studio are 30 stationary bikes, but they are different from the bikes you may have used before in the cardio area of the SRC. There is no large screen with multiple buttons in front of you, and nowhere to put your phone or a book, so don’t even both bringing either into the studio; it’s best to leave them in your locker along with your backpack. All you need inside the studio is appropriate workout clothing and shoes and a water bottle.

Pick a bike, and you’ll immediately notice that the seat is probably way too high for you to climb on. Loosen the knob at the very bottom of the seat portion of the bike, and you can slide the seat down until it reaches the level of your hip bones, or just slightly lower. (Don’t forget to re-tighten the adjustment knob for the seat before you let go!)

Place your water bottle in the little holder found in front of and beneath your seat, and climb onto your bike! Put your feet in the holders, and extend one leg fully downward. You should have a slight bend in your knee, and you don’t want your knee to be very bent nor very straight, causing you to stretch. If it doesn’t feel comfortable to pedal, simply get off and re-adjust until you get it right. (It took me about three tries.)

If you don’t know what to do about anything at all, simply ask the instructor! They will be glad to help you! I asked my instructor to check to see if she thought I had everything adjusted correctly, and I didn’t feel judged at all.

Now you’re set to begin! The little lever directly in front of you below the tiny digital screen adjusts the resistance. As you move the lever, you will see the number in the bottom, left-hand corner of the screen increase. Find your “home base” level (which will usually between 5-10) by adjusting this lever until you feel like there is “road” under you when you pedal. This won’t make that much sense until you feel it, but when the level is at 1, you’ll just feel like the pedals are loose and your legs are moving uncontrollably until you add some resistance. Your “home-base” level is where you feel like you have enough resistance to feel like you can pedal smoothly without feeling like it is actually difficult.

During the actual class, the instructor turned out the lights so that the studio was dimly lit by other lights surrounding the room. She turned on music, and we warmed up and then did two “uphill” segments, followed by one “downhill” rest segment. During the uphill segment, you increase the resistance gradually up to five resistance levels above your home base and alternate between pedaling fast and faster. At your “fast” level, the instructor recommended that we stay between 60-80 rpm (you’ll see this number at the top of your screen) and at your “faster” level, it was recommended that we stay between 70-100 rpm. (We also alternated between sitting and standing, and it should be noted that apparently, if you lean too far over the front of your bike when you stand, you can indeed wreck a stationary bike by making it tip over, according to the instructor.) Before you know it, you’ll be working up a sweat, your heart will be pounding, and you’ll be breathing hard. The “downhill” segment is a nice break with low resistance to allow you to recover between sets.

We did two more uphill sets and then ended the class with three sprints, during which you pedal as fast as you possibly can at high resistance for just 15 seconds. Those 15 seconds may seem insurmountable when you’re already exhausted and pink in the face, but all three sprints actually went by much more quickly that I expected!

I honestly didn’t expect to feel that tired or sweaty after only 30 minutes, but the class was a lot more challenging than I thought, which was great! I left feeling like I had gotten an excellent leg and cardio workout in just half an hour, and starting next week, the cycle classes will range from 45 minutes to an hour in duration, so you’ll never have to worry about getting a rad workout from any class!

In the interest of an honest review, my single complaint is that the music was way too loud for my taste, but it could be because either I have sensitive ears, or the instructor was located slightly behind the speakers and therefore didn’t notice quite how loud it actually was to the rest of us.

Overall, I loved the class and I bet you will too if you give it a try! There are 12 different cycle instructors teaching, and each one has a different style, so if you try one class and it’s not your favorite, try another one and you might like it more! If my schedule permits, I will try to attend one class with every instructor by the end of the semester so that I can write a short summary of their different styles!

A final important note: because there are only 29 bikes in the studio after one is taken by the instructor, you are required to stop by the SRC to sign up for all cycle classes at any point the day of the class at the front desk before you enter the studio. Classes fill up on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you come by early in the day to sign up and then come back later for the actual class, they will simply verify your name on the list and give you a yellow cycle pass at the front desk!

Click here for the full schedule of the times and instructors of each cycle class, or find the link on the Campus Recreation website, campusrec.unc.edu under the group fitness tab or on our super convenient and free mobile app anytime. Happy cycling!

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