Friday, March 2, 2012

Douglas College shapes up with the Biggest Loser and Health and Wellness challenges

Sean Kelly has traded in chips and Tim Horton's bagels for squirrel food, such as fruits and nuts.

By Toby Reeve

You may have noticed something different about Douglas College lately - a new sparkle in its windows, a spring in its steps. Douglas is shaping up. Five weeks ago, 200 students, staff and faculty signed on for the Biggest Loser and the Health and Wellness challenges, run by Douglife.

I understand the need for staying healthy. But as a full-time student with a job, often the only workout I have time for is huffing up Eighth Street on my way to class. At this point in my life, I prioritize my career path.

Anna Schachner, who runs the challenges, wants to change this kind of attitude. “I thought to myself, Douglas College could be the healthiest post-secondary institution in the Lower Mainland,” she says.

She talks about the benefits of making time for well-balanced diets, regular exercise, adequate sleep and personal relaxation. “The attitude and the energy at the college could be heightened, grades may improve, and friendships could be made from the variety of recreation opportunities.”

The Biggest Loser is all about shedding weight, while the Health and Wellness Challenge scores such areas as exercise, diet and emotional well-being. Fitness workshops and a Facebook page with health articles help participants. People can compete in teams for motivation and support. Winners will take home a prize.

Sean Kelly, Marketing and Communications Manager at Douglas, took on the Biggest Loser to bolster a recent radical lifestyle change. He is reversing years of poor diet, exercise and sleep. “I welcomed the extra fun, incentive, camaraderie and structure,” he says of the challenge.

Now he takes the stairs, works out almost daily and calls Tim Horton’s his “ex–fast food girlfriend.” “I feel more energetic, more positive … more creative, more in control,” he says.

I start to wonder what I’m missing out on.

Sharon Miki, a full-time student and Assistant Editor at The Other Press, is also onto the Biggest Loser. She considers herself a “cliché student” who spends too much time sitting in front of a computer, is stressed out, and would reward her studies with junk food. Now she is competing against a coworker, losing weight weekly and feeling energized. “Courses end, but your health is your health,” she says.

It turns out we don’t have to do a lot to stay healthy. Experts agree that just 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise, such as walking, is one of the best things we can do for ourselves, greatly lowering levels of stress and depression and likelihood of disease. In one study, women who went from no exercise to just one hour a week cut their risk of heart disease by almost half.

I wonder how, if I need so little exercise to stay healthy, I can so easily neglect myself. Sure, I feel pressed for time as we hurtle through the digital age. But busyness can be self-avoidance. Facing myself is a tough job - the kind that college doesn’t usually prepare us for.

Sean struggles with his body image, and Sharon dreads the weekly weigh-ins. But just past the halfway mark, they have the support of a community and are being recognized and valued for their efforts.

Anna’s vision is taking hold. Douglas is shaping up, and not just physically. You might feel a deeper sense of self in its halls.

Toby Reeve is a student in the Print Futures: Professional Writing program and a student staffer at Douglife.