Dal fights the Freshman 15

Course encourages first-year students to stay active, eat right


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Fitness trainer Ryan Cairns, instructor of the Freshman 15 class at the Dalplex, demonstrates one way to use kettle bells. (Photo: Lacy O’Connell)

Ryan Cairns lies on a blue workout mat in his "office," a former squash court in the Dalplex, showing his students how to do a Turkish get-up.

The personal trainer holds a 20-pound kettle bell, a cast-iron weight that looks like a teapot without the spout, and explains to students how the exercise works different muscle groups.

The class, called Freshman 15, teaches students how to be healthy in their first year of university. This is the first time the course has been offered.

Anne LeBlanc, another personal trainer at Dalplex who helped organize the program last summer, says it was time to address a problem. Many first-year students at Dalhousie don't know how to eat and exercise properly, setting them up for a lifetime of unhealthy behaviour and poor health.

"It's much easier to work with your health while you have it than to try to regain it," LeBlanc says.

Opal Card, 19, one of the students in the class, wants to learn how to eat well, how to stay healthy and, she adds, " possibly lose weight." Although the name of the class suggests that it's all about weight, it's really about developing a lifelong love of fitness and good nutrition.

Eating habits and chronic disease

The Public Health Agency of Canada says that healthy eating habits and regular exercise can prevent chronic disease. For example, 25 per cent of cancers could be prevented with healthy diets and physical activity.

LeBlanc says the problem starts when students come to university and stop being involved in the things that kept them active in high school, like dancing or sports.

It can be particularly bad for students in residence who may not have an opportunity to eat snacks, so they eat too much during meals at the dining hall. And when it comes to time management, many students don't know where to put a workout in their schedule.

Cairns says a lot of people don't realize that it's easy to fit a workout into the day. Students often don't exercise if they only have 20 minutes, but that's enough time to get a good workout. With the right training, students can learn routines that slip into their schedules.

That's where Cairns comes in. His goal is to get students interested in health benefits now, under the guidance of a personal trainer.

Looking toward the future

"It's a pilot project, so I'm just trying to start something and keep them interested," says Cairns. "They don't want me preaching to them for an hour."

So far, he has tried to keep the class interactive, asking students to try exercises after each demonstration. He believes this piques their interest. He has also taken the class through a whole workout to make sure everyone is doing the exercises correctly, to avoid injury.

The class was held twice a week during the month of October. There were only five students in the first class, but LeBlanc and Cairns will try to get a bigger turnout next semester. The Freshman 15 class is $15 for eight sessions and the next program begins after the start of the winter semester.



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