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Faculty Reach Across Disciplines to Gauge Student Fitness

By Beth Potier, Media Relations
March 4, 2009

Exercise science graduate student Kelly Cote (left) and Crystal Leonard '09, a biochemistry major, demonstrate the flexibility test.
Exercise science graduate student Kelly Cote (left) and Crystal Leonard '09, a biochemistry major, demonstrate the flexibility test.

If you stopped by the Whittemore Center to pick up some hockey tickets or grab a quick workout last week, you might have noticed legions of students speed-walking around the concourse above the skating rink, doing push-ups behind a concession stand, or stretching by the women’s bathroom.

No, it wasn’t a fundraising walk or a sports team tryout. It was just a lab for the nearly 400 students in the course Nutrition, Health and Well Being. “We really don’t know how healthy they are,” said Jesse Morrell, lecturer in nutrition, who teaches the course, Nutrition 400. “Surprisingly, we don’t have a lot of information on the health status of young adults, particularly their fitness.”

To assess the students’ fitness levels, Morrell teamed up with faculty in UNH’s exercise science program, part of the department of kinesiology. Working with associate professor of exercise science Tim Quinn and clinical assistant professor Allison MacKenzie, along with David Leach of Campus Recreation, the team devised a program to examine different components of student fitness.

Conducted during four days, the assessment had students time themselves walking a mile (four and ¾ times around the concourse), complete as many good-form push-ups as they could, and do a stretch-and-reach exercise that measures flexibility, particularly of the back and hamstrings. Upper-level students in exercise science and nutrition monitored and recorded their peers.

Morrell, Quinn and MacKenzie are hopeful that the fitness assessment will help students in the class modify their habits to maximize their health as well as provide rich data on the health of college students.

Students in the class received a high-quality pedometer to continue their self-assessment. In addition to measuring fitness, students also measured their own nutrition and health data such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and diet. (Read a story about those outcomes here: http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/2007/jun/bp14research.cfm).

Morrell heaps high praise on Campus Recreation and her colleagues in exercise science for their willingness to assist. “And it’s been great to see the professionalism of these senior-level students,” she adds.

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