Fit for Life
by Cynthia Hobgood
Move over Gold’s Gym. Students at Trinity College won’t need to spend their money on expensive memberships to local fitness centers in order to exercise anymore. The Trinity Center for Women and Girls in Sports will benefit both competitive athletes at Trinity and the general student population.
Benefits of the new center to athletes are significant and much discussed. But the typical college student cannot be forgotten, as the Trinity Center, including a fitness center, swimming pool, dance studio, walking track and other fitness facilities, will have a direct impact on the comprehensive well-being of all students, faculty and staff at Trinity.
Trinity believes active engagement in sports or exercise provides both physical and psychological benefits that support academic achievement and overall well-being. Numerous studies back up these beliefs:
- Women who exercise weigh less, have lower levels of blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides, and have lower blood pressure than non-exercising women. They also report being happier, believe they have more energy and felt they were in excellent health more often than non-exercising women (American Journal of Health Promotion, 1996).
- Women who are student athletes graduate at significantly higher rates (69 percent) than average students generally (58 percent), according to a 1996 NCAA Division I report.
- Half of all girls who participate in some kind of sport experience higher than average levels of self-esteem and less depression (Colton & Gore, Risk, Resiliency, and Resistance: Current research on Adolescent Girls, Ms. Foundation, 1991).
- Research suggests that girls who participate in sports are more likely to experience academic success and graduate from high school than those who do not play sports (Women’s Sports Foundation, 1989).
- More than 60 percent of adult women do not get the recommended amount of physical activity (30 minutes of moderate activity daily). More than 25 percent of women are not active at all (Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health, 1999).
Medical professionals also weighed in on the advantages of the Trinity Center, exercise and sport participation by Trinity students.
“Exercise does overlap into the mental, emotional and even spiritual well-being,” said Dr. Nicole Lang ’89, who recently opened Washington Pediatric Associates in the District.
“When people are exercising, they tend to feel better about themselves. Keeping a physical activity schedule can even help with time management.”
Trinity College Athletic Trainer Matthew Virtue is in the position of working with both competitive athletes and the general student population. Virtue’s number one priority is keeping Trinity’s athletes healthy, and upon injury, getting them treated and back to competition after proper rehabilitation. His other role on campus is as an adjunct faculty member teaching a prevention of illness and injury class.
“I’m a huge advocate of physical activity, not just sports,” Virtue says. “Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the United States. The heart muscle is the most important muscle to keep healthy. My job is to educate athletes and the Trinity community as to why being heart-healthy is important.”
Virtue believes some physical activity must be done every day. He says that activity can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, getting off one bus stop early and then walking, or parking farther away from the grocery store – any physical activity that will increase your heart rate. Then, there are the fitness center options that will now be available on campus with the addition of the Trinity Center
“I think that is the greatest importance of the new center,” Virtue says. “Women will now have the opportunity to exercise and then continue that the rest of their lives. Our staff and competitive athletes will be role models in leading physical activity. The student athletes will set the example for the student body.”
Virtue says social interaction will also be built at the center with students exercising and participating in competitive and non-competitive sports. He is among the believers that physical activity positively influences psychology.
Pamela Meyer Zuckerman ’68, a pediatrician in Boston, agrees with both the physical and psychological benefits.
“Data says girls in early adolescence tend to withdraw from previously enjoyed athletic endeavors,” Zuckerman said. “This new center is an opportunity for girls to be encouraged that athletic activity is really important for physical well-being, cardiovascular function, and personal benefits including happiness and the feeling of accomplishment.”
Zuckerman believes the location of the athletic center on campus is vital to creating a healthier student population.
“Convenience is critical,” she points out. “It’s hard for many adults to find the time to exercise. Having the center right around the corner is critical.”
The message the athletic center sends to students is not lost on Zuckerman. “Having this large sports center sends a message to the school’s adult women about how important this is to their lifestyles,” she said.
Virtue confirms the center is part of an intended message to students, who he says are currently too sedentary as a community, reflecting a national trend.
“Our president and our athletic director have a vision that as an overall institution we need to educate for life,” he said. “We know illness and injury are harming society. We have a vision to change that sedentary lifestyle. We hope to influence and educate students as to why that lifestyle isn’t the healthiest.
“The complete woman is what the mission of the college is,” he added. “I’m happy to be here as a male role model in health promotion.”
Nancy Neufield Fallone ’79 is a good example of living a healthy lifestyle. A personal trainer until last year, Fallone has made exercise a central part of her life and says that her lifestyle has had positive effects physically, mentally and emotionally.
She can also attest to her clients’ experiences in an aerobics class she taught for new mothers.
“After childbirth, you are so frustrated with the way you look,” Fallone said. “We found things they could do in a short amount of time. The class became a time to forget about the children and focus on themselves. They enjoyed the camaraderie of the other moms. They had a better sense of self – they looked better and felt better.”
Fallone has kept exercise a central part of life after her work as a personal trainer. She is now an active member of a women’s cycling group called “Babes on Bikes.”
“They are incredibly fit women including triathletes and marathoners,” Fallone said about the group. “They know the importance of staying fit. They also know that it is good for mental well-being and the camaraderie of women being together.”
The Trinity Center will give students an opportunity to gather and have those same kinds of experiences, and get into the habit of daily exercise.
“Just having the fitness center at Trinity is vital because it’s a matter of getting into the habit,” Fallone explained. “If you don’t start it then, it’s really hard to start later in life.”
Once the building is complete, the work is not over, however. Both Virtue and Zuckerman recommend exercise, health and sport programs be offered to students.
“This building will take a lot of planning by the staff to have programs to be enjoyed by students,” Virtue said. “I might start with a simple conditioning course including basic body knowledge, anatomy, stretching, and how to stay healthy. We could start elementary, explaining what muscles are used for what and then move up to how it works in the functional world of athletics.”
Zuckerman recommends offering a full gamut of competitive team sports and solo sports, promoting happy competition.
“In addition, students should have an opportunity to choose activities that can be carried on as an adult like swimming and yoga,” she said. “In addition to women who like to play lacrosse, field hockey, basketball, volleyball, and soccer, many women are involved in dance and ballet. Those should be offered along with cardiovascular and weight training.”
Virtue says non-competitive physical activity is definitely going to be the key component to getting students exercising at Trinity.
“We’re at a women’s college so competition is sometimes viewed differently,” he explained. “A lot of women won’t just jump into something if there’s a win/lose situation.”
Camaraderie will also be the name of the game with the Trinity Center serving as a central place of gathering, a place to play a pick-up game of volleyball, swim in the pool, relax sore muscles in the hot tub, or watch Trinity’s sports team play. Either way, students will be coming together with athletics as the hub of activity on campus.
Lang says the center is a tremendous advantage in that regard. “Not only will they will have the opportunity to develop healthy habits that will last into their adult lives, but it also gets them involved in being a team player and involved with their fellow classmates, which builds collegiality and good will.”
“Right now we’re just excited to get in to the building,” Virtue said.
“We hope it will spur more energy on campus. I’m glad to see a recreation facility has been built for that purpose. I hope that other things can pop up around campus. We need more of a buzz and energy. The Trinity Center is a big step towards creating that buzz.”
Cynthia Hobgood is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer. After covering sports business for the Washington Business Journal for several years, she is now pursuing a graduate degree in sports management. She holds a B.A. and M.A. in English from Baylor University and writes for a variety of news and periodical publications.