Colleges rev up academic success with free fitness classes

Students pose in a yoga position during class. (Northwestern University Athletics and Recreation)

By Ariana LaBarrie

Students are toting sneakers and water to class instead of laptops and notebooks with the free fitness classes offered at many colleges.

Several campuses, including Chicago area colleges like Columbia College Chicago, Northwestern University and DePaul University, are offering the work out classes to students ranging from aquatic workouts to Zumba.

Students often come to class with their backpacks, taking a quick break in their hectic schedule to fit in a sweat before going back to the academic grind.  Stressed out students become more relaxed both mentally and physically with these work outs that require them to take time their mind of their studies and focus on their mind and body.

Students can feel a sense of community by participating in these classes, as well as improving physical and mental wellness, fitness experts said.  These benefits can increase students’ chances for academic success.“Students who attend free fitness classes can experience many health benefits including increased coordination, increased stamina and muscular endurance, improved mood and improved body composition,” said Heather Hamilton, assistant director of fitness and wellness for DePaul University Campus Recreation.

“It’s probably a student’s best tool for fighting stress, for fighting anxiety, for fighting depression.  It helps them with their self confidence, with their self-esteem.  It helps them sleep better.  It helps them become more productive,” said Mark Brticevich, coordinator of fitness and recreation at Columbia College Chicago. “For so many reasons, if you really want to enhance a student’s arsenal, you are going to enhance their fitness levels.”

Many students agree that taking fitness classes can reduce their stress level and better prepare them for exams.

Brticevich said that these fitness classes help students perform better academically because it helps improve students’ mindset and allows them to perform better academically.

“I definitely think it would help [with stress and anxiety]. That is part of why we went, because we have an exam coming up.  We figured it would be helpful to get us ready to study,” said Nicola Traynor, a sophomore at Northwestern University who recently attended the vinyasa yoga class with a friend.

NU Dance
Students decrease stress while dancing in class. (Northwestern University Athletics and Recreation/Courtesy)

Participating at a college fitness center can also increase students grades and their likelihood to continue at a school.  A study by Michigan State University published in 2014 showed students that were part of the recreational sports and fitness center at the university had higher GPAs than the students who were not apart of the centers. The study group of freshman and sophomores also showed that the group that were a part of the fitness center had a higher two-year retention rate than students who were not a part of the centers.

Brticevich said that students are more likely to stay at school instead of transferring or dropping out because it of the sense of community that fitness classes and centers provide.

“It makes you feel like you are a part of something,” Brticevich said of the fitness classes.   “Once you feel a connection, through other students, or faculty members or a fitness instructor, you are more likely to stay there.  If you don’t feel that connection, you are not likely to stick around.”

Although these classes can improve a student’s chances for academic success, attendance tends to drop during midterms and finals, a time where students need the stress relief that these classes provide.

“Midterms and finals is when the fitness center becomes empty, and that is when it should be packed.  That is when students are most stressed.  That is when you need your brain needs to function the best…and that is when we should be packed,” Brticevich said.

To help combat midterms and final stress level, Hamilton said that DePaul University Campus Recreation tries to offer restorative and stress relief yoga classes.  The goal is to “help students refocus on the present moment and prepare for exams.”

Photo at top: Students pose in a yoga position during class. (Northwestern University Athletics and Recreation)