Diagnosis for Health
MSU offers resources on campus for students to maintain active, fit lifestyles
LIFE:Rx program manager Jonathan Kermiet tests genomics and molecular genetics senior Nikki Pawloske’s fitness during a LIFE:Rx appointment on Thursday at the Olin Health Center. As Pawloske continued to cycle, the computer increased the resistance. Julia Nagy/The State News
Genomics and molecular genetics senior Nikki Pawloske scheduled a Life:Rx appointment with the dream of mountain climbing in her mind.
“There’s a certain level of endurance needed to hike and climb uphill, especially in the cold,” Pawloske explained to Jonathan Kermiet, who administers Life:Rx fitness tests for Student Health Services. “But that’s what I want to do one day, to have the endurance to climb mountains.”
Life:Rx is a service offered by MSU’s Student Health Services at the Olin Health Center. Students and faculty can schedule appointments where they take part in fitness evaluations and wellness assessments, eventually working with staff to develop a lifestyle or exercise plan.
“The program is designed to give a student a baseline of where they’re at with their overall fitness, looking at strength, flexibility, muscle endurance, body composition, and so on,” Kermiet said. “We also look at a student’s lifestyle behaviors, and we can refer them to a nutritionist within Olin, or an alcohol and drugs counselor depending on needs.”
Many students who take the fitness tests — such as Pawloske, who is the treasurer of MSU’s Student Health Advisory Council — have an idea of what they want to accomplish before they come in.
Some students might want to run a 5K or marathon, or look better, sleep better or have more energy, Kermiet said.
But for students who don’t know how to evaluate their health, there are a number of resources available on campus.
Ronda Bokram, staff nutritionist at Olin, said she wonders why students have trouble remembering the youthful joy associated with eating habits.
“Remember that little kid in you that had fun with food?” Bokram said. “Let’s go back to that.”
But students who come to MSU aren’t kids anymore, and with endless options in the dining halls, Sparty’s convenience stores and the variety of restaurants lining Grand River Avenue, eating healthy can be seen as a formidable challenge.
But Bokram said worrying about food is precisely the problem and actually can create unnecessary stress.
“We need to redefine the word healthy,” Bokram said. “When you really think about how health is thought of in this culture, it’s restrictive. You can’t look at one food item and say this is healthy or not healthy, unless it’s all you plan on eating. We need a more relaxed approach. There are wonderful options everywhere if you eat a variety of foods.”
And the so-called “freshman 15?” An urban legend, Bokram said, because the research tends to look at the first six to eight weeks of a year, rather than the entire academic year as a whole.
“Looking at the whole academic year, the average weight gain is two to three pounds,” she said. “Some people lose, some people don’t gain at all. Some do, but a lot of it is just part of normal growth and development.”
Students who are worried about what they eat can schedule an appointment with Bokram.
Nutritional consultations through Student Health Services are personalized to every individual, unlimited to students and free of charge.
While Bokram said every student will have different dietary needs, she does suggest all students make time to eat and learn about their bodies.
“We need to eat intuitively, to work with our bodies to know when we’re hungry,” she said. “And we need to give ourselves permission to eat — that’s really key in not developing problems with food.”
MSU has an edge on other Big Ten schools because any student with a valid ID has basic access to fitness facilities, said Rick McNeil, director of Recreational Sports and Fitness Services.
With MSU’s funding model, any student can swim laps or play a pickup game of basketball with friends at no cost.
Students can then elect to pay more for better perks, such as use of fitness equipment machines or joining club and intramural sports teams.
A semester pass for using only fitness centers is $85. A semester pass for full access to group exercise classes, outdoor pools and fitness centers is $125.
But it’s more than just playing sports, and it’s far more than just working out, McNeil said.
McNeil’s department is working with doctoral students to study the correlation between participating in MSU’s intramural and recreation programs and strong academic performance.
And the health benefits can be numerous.
“If you ask students why they come to the IM centers, they’ll tell you it relieves anxiety, it makes them feel more alert, they sleep better, and it’s an opportunity for a social connection and engagement with peers,” McNeil said.
Even for students who might not be concerned with their health right now, taking advantage of fitness facilities, classes or recreational activities can build lasting habits later in life, McNeill said.
“If a student comes in as a freshman and gets used to being a participant for four or more years, when they leave here, for the rest of their life, that will be ingrained in them,” McNeil said.
Stress and mental health
One piece of advice Scott Becker, acting director of MSU’s Counseling Center, has for stressed students is fairly simple — get off of Facebook and talk to friends in person.
“I think students can benefit from face-to-face conversations with close friends, since we live in a culture that increasingly encourages online social interaction,” Becker said. “(Electronic social interactions) tend to have less of a positive impact on our emotional and physical health than an actual conversation in ‘real life.’”
National trends in student mental health issues include increased anxiety and use of psychiatric medication.
Both of those trends might be attributed to financial or economic stress, or even the stress of a nationwide focus on violent incidents and terrorist threats, Becker said.
According to MSU National College Health Assessment data, almost 50 percent of MSU students reported tremendous or higher than average stress levels last year.
The Counseling Center has a number of resources for students who might be struggling with stress, including small groups dedicated to stress reduction, on-campus psychiatry and short-term individual counseling.
“The colleges also offer various forms of support, and students should feel free to approach their academic advisors if they are considering seeking out wellness services or more intensive treatment,” he said.
And emotional health isn’t something limited just to homesick freshmen.
Students of all ages are vulnerable to mental health issues, Becker said.
“It makes sense to be self-monitoring and proactive in addressing any concerns early in the process, rather than waiting until an issue becomes overwhelming or has a significant impact on daily functioning, either academic or personal,” he said.