Heart Healthy Week gives students in-person fitness opportunities

Students can go in person to the Student Fitness Center for Heart Healthy Week, a series of daily fitness events to encourage healthy lifestyles. Featuring basketball challenges, healthy snacks and a chance to win prizes, students can take a break from virtual events while keeping their hearts healthy. 

Kristine Miller, a master’s candidate and exercise physiology major from O’Fallon, Illinois, said the event is inspired by American Heart Month, a national heart health awareness campaign. Once students swipe their Cougar Cards, Miller said picking an activity is as easy as scanning a QR code. 

“All the student needs to do is come scan in the Fitness Center and then they find the event’s staff, a fitness attendant, and just say, ‘Hey, I’d like to try this challenge,’ QR code it and they get a challenge,” Miller said. 

According to Miller, the activities available range widely, but students can mix and match as they see fit.

“We wanted to give it a variety, so the mile challenge, you could walk a mile on our track or on the treadmill, so [that] gets students utilizing different avenues in our facility: push-ups, pull-ups, StepMaster,” Miller said. “And the thing is, you as a student could do the same one each day — you don’t have to do a pull-up if you don’t want to do a pull-up, it’s up to your choice.”

While these particular fitness challenges will be available each day of the event, there will also be events exclusive to certain days. Basketball challenges will be available from noon to 2 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday, and there will be Badminton open play from 5-9 p.m. on Friday.

In addition to a variety of activities, Miller said Heart Healthy Week offers students a variety of prizes for participating.

“We have daily free giveaways, so basically you come, you can get a free t-shirt or a mug or something. We’ll also put them in gift card giveaways for the end of the week, so we have gift cards to Target, Walmart, Amazon and then a grand prize of a Garmin running watch,” Miller said. “[It] costs the students nothing other than coming on in and [making] sure they do the QR code to get credit for that.”

While there are chances to win prizes, Assistant Director of Recreational Programs Natalie Rosales-Hawkins said the event is less about competition and more about encouragement. 

“What we were really trying to go for … was something that’s not intimidating, that doesn’t need a lot of skill. This is not a competition …  this is just, ‘Hey, I want you to try this,’ and just have students participate and not feel like they’re being judged on a competition-style activity,” Rosales-Hawkins said.

Jon Klingensmith, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering who has done extensive research in the assessment of heart disease, said while fitness can seem intimidating, it doesn’t take much to help prevent heart disease.

“All of us start developing heart disease at a very early age. Studies have shown it starts in teenagers, so it’s definitely important to develop good habits early in life and take care of yourself,” Klingensmith said. “I think people get intimidated by establishing good exercise habits, but a lot of the research shows that it doesn’t take much to make a positive impact, so even if it’s just walking more than you used to … small changes can make a big difference.”

In addition to getting exercise, Rosales-Hawkins said students can eat right with healthy grab-and-go snack options from Dining Services from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on Monday through Friday and from 6-8 p.m. on Monday through Thursday.

This may be the first in-person event some students have attended on campus in months; according to Rosales-Hawkins, Phase 4 state mitigations have made organizing the event much easier. 

“What’s neat about this Heart Healthy Week [is] we’re considering that a recreational activity,” Rosales-Hawkins said. “Right now, we don’t have in-person reservations for the Fitness Center, right now masks are not required during physical activities … so this is also an opportunity to boost participation as well. We’ve seen that here in our fitness center, that the students are coming back knowing that there aren’t all these barriers.”

This year’s Heart Healthy Week will take place from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. on Feb. 15 through Feb. 19. No registration is required — students just need to visit the Student Fitness Center to get involved.

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