Fitness classes at H & K increasing in popularity, emphasize wellness message

Photo by Charlotte Reilly

By Juli Oberlander

As college campuses nationwide offer wellness programs in addition to campus recreation, the University of Nebraska at Omaha plays an active role in this trend.

When UNO renovated its School of Health and Kinesiology in 2010, the university changed the definition of wellness for its students. In addition to adding 95,000 square feet of new space, UNO renovated 150,000 square feet of existing space.

The construction allowed UNO to build two new gyms, fitness rooms and purchase new weight training equipment.

Joe Kaminski, director of campus recreation at UNO since 1994, said the renovation brought many changes to the H & K building. In particular, the three new fitness rooms can each accommodate classes of 30-35 students who are interested in new trends such as yoga and Zumba dance workouts.

“There are lots of activities that didn’t happen back when I started here,” Kaminski said. “Prior to the renovation, we had to make do in the gym or some area that wasn’t necessarily designed for that kind of activity.”

UNO also opened up the jogging track, making it longer and changing it from two lanes to three, Kaminski said. Since making the track more accessible, more students have started using the space.

While other additions have been popular with students such as an indoor soccer space, Kaminski said the biggest change has been in the number of fitness classes offered. These include yoga, core training, CrossFit and spin classes.

“They’re more popular than they’ve ever been, and I think part of it is students coming to the university looking for those things,” Kaminski said. “They may not have been exposed to these classes prior to college.”

UNO has offered more classes such as yoga and CrossFit training since the renovations in 2010, Kaminski said.

He said the movement has also grown since Dan Shipp, vice chancellor of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, came up with the idea to teach the eight dimensions of wellness at H & K.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration identifies the eight categories of wellness as part of wellness strategies that are “practical ways” to build healthy living.

Many of the dimensions relate to the mind such as intellectual, emotional and spiritual wellness. The other categories relate to interaction with outside factors such as environmental, financial, occupational, physical and social wellness, according to SAMHSA.

Kaminski said the eight categories of wellness interact with and relate to each other.

“If you’re off in one, you’re probably impacting the others as well,” Kaminski said.

More universities are adding a wellness concept in addition to existing campus recreation programs, Kaminski said.

The wellness center is a “necessary and beneficial” service, he said. The department, which includes campus recreation, Counseling and Psychological Services and health services, has a mission to meet student needs to help them develop healthy ways to deal with issues such as anxiety and stress.

“One of the goals for our institution is to become one of the healthiest campuses in the country,” Kaminski said. “I think having that wellness concept puts us up pretty high as far as other colleges and universities are concerned.”

H & K uses positive messaging to attract students to use the eight dimensions of wellness in their lives. Along with the increasing number of students using the health and counseling centers, the UNO community is participating in fitness classes and programs like never before.

One program that has increased steadily over the years is Commit to Fit. The wellness center offers Commit to Fit in January during the time students make New Year’s resolutions. For three to four days, students write down a fitness-related or personal goal to achieve over the coming year. In addition to a free t-shirt, students receive support from staff through follow-up emails.

The program has grown from around 400 students five years ago to 900 who participated this year, Kaminski said. Commit to Fit, along with the increasing popularity of yoga and Zumba classes, shows how the wellness trend impacts students.

“We’re trying to not only help people be successful, but also to teach ways to achieve those goals,” Kaminski said. “Students seem to love it.”

One of the most popular classes at UNO and throughout the U.S. is yoga. More than 13 million adults practiced yoga in 2007, according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

Cassie Jahn is a UNO student who is a part of the growing number of Americans participating in yoga and other new fitness trends. Jahn, a senior majoring in public relations and advertising, is a member of the UNO swim and diving team. She said the team often uses new fitness programs for training purposes.

“We do yoga for swimming sometimes and I love it because it makes us more flexible,” Jahn said.

Jahn, who is a sprint freestyler for the team, said her teammates have influenced her to participate in fitness classes at H & K. She said she plans to participate in classes next year when she has more time in her schedule, and that Zumba seems like “a lot of fun.”

“The seniors last year were really into Zumba,” Jahn said. “I can’t dance to save my life so I’d prefer not to embarrass myself in front of a class, but the yoga classes are really nice.”

Jahn said her team also trains by doing CrossFit workouts, a type of regimen that includes weight lifting, running and other varied types of fitness.

“CrossFit is nice because you’re lifting weights and you’re running and you’re doing abs, so it’s a lot more dynamic,” Jahn said. “It kicks your butt, which helps us for swimming because you need a lot more endurance training.”

Jahn said she plans to do the boot camp at H & K this year along with taking other fitness classes. In addition to the eight dimensions of wellness, these complementary health practices are helpful to Americans in maintaining health and relieving stress, according to the NHIS.

Kaminski said enhancing the lives of students is the goal of the wellness center.

“We want to be supportive of our students,” Kaminski said. “We want them to be able to do well while they’re here and take that positive experience with them as they leave.”