Student-professor collaboration shows significant impact of Lifetime Fitness and Wellness class

Considering how stressful college can be, you might be surprised to learn there’s a required class at Transylvania University that can actually lower your blood pressure.

Doubt it? Sophomore Austin Thompson and exercise science professor JJ Wallace have the data to back it up.

Working in collaboration, they analyzed three years of physiological measurements taken before and after students participated in a Lifetime Fitness and Wellness class. The researchers discovered that not only was the students’ blood pressure significantly lower, but so were things like resting heart rate and body fat percentage. (Check out the data.)

“We are seeing positive changes across multiple components of health-related fitness,” Wallace said. “It’s showing that with this class our students are becoming healthier.”

Wallace’s previous research revealed that Transylvania is in the minority of Kentucky colleges offering the course. “It really is the small liberal arts colleges in Kentucky that are still driving this idea that wellness is important,” she said. Schools with a liberal arts mission, after all, focus on the whole person. (And keep in mind exercise can boost classroom performance too.)

Going back to the 1920s, almost all colleges required each student take a similar course. Now only around 40% of them do.

For the course at Transylvania, students participate in an exercise program and learn how to adopt a healthy lifestyle that hopefully will last a lifetime.

Wallace had been considering ways to show the importance of the class when Thompson — who was a first-year student at the time — inquired about research opportunities. So she asked if he’d like to crunch the before and after numbers for 280 students who took the class, which is taught each term.

“I said of course, yes I would love that. I’m not going to miss this opportunity,” Thompson said. “I’ve learned how to evaluate data — how to handle hundreds of sheets of data without being overwhelmed.”

Thompson, who plans to pursue a career in physical therapy, received a Kenan Fund for Faculty and Student Enrichment grant from the university to conduct the study: Impact of a Required Fitness and Wellness Course.

He and Wallace plan to continue the research by analyzing more of the students’ physiological data and then submit the study to a scientific journal. Earlier this year they presented their findings at the Kentucky Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance annual conference in Louisville.

Thompson, who took the class himself during May term, said he was surprised by the impact it has on students. Plus, the workouts were “a nice change of pace.”

Wallace said she’s been impressed with his enthusiasm — as well as his desire to work hard.

The professor also is impressed with what the study shows. “We are having an effect on the physical health of our students, and I think that is something to be completely proud of,” she said. That’s especially true in a world where obesity and chronic diseases are rampant.

“I’m completely passionate about this course,” Wallace said.