“I am too busy to exercise at regular times, and it is also a little tiresome. Also, I do not know what kinds of exercises are suitable for me, so it is not easy to choose an exercise and start doing it.” This quote from a student of the University of Seoul (UOS) represents a common attitude toward exercise. These days, many students are abandoning exercising due to busy and irregular life patterns derived from studying, writing assignments, and trying hard to get a job. However, to exercise regularly and maintain good health is still one of the New Year’s resolutions for many. In order to remember the importance of exercise and health, we may want to look to the quote by Mahatma Gandhi. “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” The UOS Times, in this article, will analyze the health condition of UOS students and explore their level of health and exercise habits.
How Does UOS Students’ Physical Strength Compare to Their Peers?
Health directly relates to regular exercise. However, in general many university students in Korea think that their health is of a similar level or even superior to that of others. This leads students to neglect their health in daily life. Before insisting that current university students need to exercise regularly for their health, we will objectively discuss the current status of twenty-somethings’ physical health. In addition, we hope that by checking the gap of physical strength between UOS students and their peers throughout the country, we can warn UOS students of how their complacent attitude toward their physical health is dangerous.
Are UOS students as physically superior to others? Let us explore this question. To check the actual physical condition of UOS students, The UOS Times analyzed data about the physical strength of 105 students who are currently taking Modern Society and Human Health (MSHH) class and compared it with the average physical fitness of twenty-somethings nationwide. To determine the physical strength of various ages, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Korea conducts the National Physical Fitness Survey (NPFS) every other years. In this survey, there are nine measuring items; height, weight, body mass index (BMI), 50-meter race, 20-meter shuttle long-race, standing long jump, toe touching, sit-ups, and grip strength. The results of these measurements show the basic physical fitness of participants such as muscle force, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility so that people can infer how individual Koreans’ health is compared with that of the national average.
Students who are taking MSHH joined the National Fitness Award (NFA) certification program; a government sponsored business for scientifically checking the health of Korean citizens. 62 female and 43 male students handed in their analysis and the results were surprising. The average BMI of males taking MSHH was similar to that of twenty-somethings in NPFS, but the body fat percentage of males taking MSHH was three to four percent higher than the average of NPFS participants. Other health categories of males taking MSHH such as muscle force, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility were lower than those of people in the 20s. Females taking MSHH showed better results than males when compared to the average results of their peers while their body fat percentage and flexibility were lower than those of the NPFS participants. Although the number of the test subject group may be too small to accurately represent the entire UOS student body, it is nonetheless an indicator that shows UOS students need to be exercising in order to improve their physical fitness.
Do our students exercise regularly? If so, how many times do they exercise a week and which type of exercise do they prefer? Or, if they do not, why are they avoiding regular workouts even though they know it is good for them?
The Fitness Level of Our School Students
To determine an objective figure, The UOS Times conducted a survey about our university students’ current exercise habits. The question included gender and level (freshmen, sophomore, junior, senior) to see if there is a correlation between these variables and regular exercise. As shown in the chart on the next page, about one third of the participants answered that they work out regularly. However, the figure is dependent on gender and level. According to the survey, half of male respondents regularly work out, while only one third of females regularly work out. In addition, as the level gets higher, the ratio of exercisers drops.
From the group of respondents who regularly exercise, the next question was “How often do you work out?” The result was a wide distribution; over 50 percent work out two to three times a week, about 30 percent exercise four to five times a week, and 15 percent of respondents exercise once a week or less.
Another question concerned the purpose of the exercise. Losing weight or building an attractive body ranked first, staying physically fit ranked second, and exercising as a hobby ranked third. These results show that many people care about how they look more than their health. In order to explore this issue in more depth, The UOS Times interviewed our school’s personal trainer, Seung-woo Yoo. According to him, many gym-goers exercise for a variety of purposes. He stated, as is also shown in the survey, most people come to the Wellness Center to lose weight and build a nice body. Yoo’s comments on other types of exercisers may surprise some readers. The trainer says students preparing for a test, such as Certified Public Account (CPA) or tax account license, come to the center to improve their physical strength. These people experience the limit of their stamina and want to improve efficiency and increase alertness while studying. The last kind of exercisers aims for difference in body type. A skinny person wants to gain weight because this kind of person cannot gain weight by simply eating a lot; therefore, they work out to gain fat, not to be healthy or to gain muscle.
Problems of Not Exercising
A majority of students - 61 percent - do not work out. About 70 percent answered that it is too bothersome to start working out. Time shortage was the second most popular choice - over 45 percent. Financial difficulties and poor fitness knowledge both amounted 10 percent and 18 percent respectively.
From the survey, we can identify that many students do not exercise. Everyone knows that not exercising is bad for their health, but specifically, what kinds of problems happen when someone does not work out? When we do not exercise, our muscle mass decreases and, since our hearts and lungs are made up of muscle, their function weakens and this leads to a drop in physical strength. The result is that most of us sit in front of desks, doze all day, find it hard to concentrate, and breathe heavily when ascending the steep road from Hoegi station to the school’s back gate.
A lot of people, especially females think the purpose of exercise is to lose weight. When a skinny girl says she is working out, many people ask why. This kind of view is very dangerous because many people in Korea are skinny-fat. Actually, they are scientifically called Metabolically Obese, Normal-Weight (MONW) individuals. This is usually defined when body fat percentage is higher than certain limits - the male standard is 25 percent, and the female standard is 30 percent. The feature of this kind of obesity is that ostensibly, although an individual looks very slim, they get tired easily and get breathless sometimes, yet the person does not think of this as problematic. This condition may seem trivial, but upon internal examination, this skinny person has a higher possibility of getting lifestyle disease than a conventionally obese person. Many MONW people have a high percentage of visceral fat, and this leads to a rise in blood cholesterol, neutral fat, and insulin resistance, causing metabolic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Since it does not catch the eye, these individuals think they are healthy, and so, they are neglectful of their health. This kind of body type is caused by a lack of exercise and a habitually low calorie diet. This is enough reason to encourage thin people to exercise.
In the survey of The UOS Times, many students answered that they do not exercise because it is too tiresome or they do not have time. For these kinds of students, our school’s physical education classes could be an answer. These classes are organized as one-credit classes, and several attractive classes - like snowboarding, skiing - are open in winter session. Some of us simply do not like exercising while others have a desire for it but cannot due to various reasons. But whatever the reason, exercise is necessary. You may be healthy now, but in the long term, not exercising will likely cause you more trouble and agony than you feel these days. To put it concretely, according to Boston University School of Medicine, if we do not exercise, our brains gradually shrink, which leads to fast brain aging. Moreover, by exercising, we can prevent many diseases, especially cardiovascular problems. If we do not like sweating and all the associated inconveniences of exercising, we can walk instead. An increase of activity, such as walking around the campus, improves our total rate of metabolism, and it will make us healthier. When walking, by using an application that counts our steps or distance, we may experience an enhanced effect.
Can You Identify Healthy Exercise?
■ Ignorance of "Basic" Exercise
You can see lots of people in fitness centers doing weight training. They seem to have very healthy bodies, with six-packs and sexy back muscles. For example, let us consider a man, who just signed up for the gym, wanted to get that kind of musculature and so he did the same training he saw in a side glance. A few days later, he ended up laying injured upon a hospital bed. What he missed was the core exercise that many people forget about. Our core is near the sacrum inside the pelvis. It is the center of our bodies. This core muscle cannot be touched and is not visible when trained, but if you develop the upper body without training this part, it could cause disc prolapse or other spinal diseases. Even if you do not develop such ailments you may suffer severe spinal damage. When the core is strong, it makes the whole body structurally solid, and gives a great foundation in enhancing stamina and power.
■ The Danger of Imbalance
There are some people who only run, jump rope, and cycle because they are aiming to lose weight. These kinds of exercise, where you increase the usage of oxygen of the body, are called aerobic exercise. In the short term, this weight loss technique could be effective because it uses our body fat as an energy source. However, if you only do aerobic exercise, you could end up with a drooping belly, and easily gain weight if you stop. This happens because the aerobic exercise does not require using muscles, it just burns fat. In the long run, muscle exercise increases the strength of elasticity and reinforcement of muscular power. By doing both aerobic and muscle - anaerobic - exercise, it is possible to change your body style to burn fat easily.
Now try consider the story of Kim. Kim, who is into tennis, plays it almost every day. Since he is right-handed, he always holds the racket in the right hand. Currently, tennis is the only exercise he does. He started playing tennis about a month ago, and he sees no imbalance or abnormality yet, but he is worried that this exercise will eventually cause an imbalance in his body.
Actually, living a life is a progression toward imbalance. According to a survey conducted in the United States (U.S.), more than 90 percent of people have imbalanced bodies. Many sports can even accelerate this because when playing sports, we tend to use the body part that is familiar and easy to us, often the right hand and the right leg. This does not seem to be a problem now, but in the long term, this could lead to severe imbalance. The problem occurs in this way: if symmetry of the body breaks, it not only seems awkward, but it could cause a variety of complications. You would probably expect that musculoskeletal disease, and other problems related to bones to be complications. However, you might be surprised to know that obesity is another complication. Imbalance of body types stagnates circulation, which causes accumulation of body waste, and it results in obesity in certain parts of the body. Moreover, it can cause one to suffer chronic pain, which will not be easily remedied with drugs or short term therapy.
In order to solve these problems, having a balanced exercise routine is important, in a proper, regular way. If you have an imbalance because of certain sports, changing to a sport that promotes physical symmetry is a good way to solve the problem.
Additionally, finding weak body parts and beefing them up is another great idea. Pilates and yoga can also help you to fix joint dislocation. But if the condition is too complicated to be fixed by exercise, attending a clinic and fixing the imbalance is important. If you feel asymmetrical but leave it unfixed, the problem will deepen and it will cost more effort and cause further damage in the future. Since most of us are in our twenties and we are young enough to fix these problems easily, we should actively try to fix them so that they do not worsen.
Do You Exercise Regularly?
Lots of us stop exercising when preparing for exam periods. This rest takes about three weeks and when we come back to our fitness centers or gymnasiums to exercise, we get tired more easily than we did three weeks prior. This is a result of the “detraining effect.” The detraining effect is a side effect that happens when someone stops training. When you stop working out, one of the remarkable differences that occurs is the decrease of our muscle mass. After two weeks, the quantity of muscle starts to decrease. The loss of muscle is hard to regain, and is tougher to develop than it was the first time. Also, if we do not exercise, our bodies require only a little oxygen, so our maximum intake of oxygen decreases. After a month of not exercising, the elasticity of our muscles decreases while our body fat ratio increases. Sleeping disorders could develop and we may get stressed easily. Our rate of metabolism drops while the rate of blood sugar and blood pressure rises. Additionally, even our brain can weaken when not exercising. From this point, we have a similar or an even worse condition than someone who has never worked out.
Exercising is important, but proper exercise is much more important. Yoo, the trainer of UOS, says that when we know the mechanisms of our bodies, losing weight and making a healthy body is not a hard task. If you are to attain health or hope to have a great shape, it is essential to learn about what exercise you are doing, how this exercise will influence you, and which aspects to be cautious of, like physical imbalance and the importance of core exercise. If you get too busy to exercise, exercising your core for several minutes a day will be a good alternative plan to maintain your health.
How to Make UOS a Good Place to Start Exercising
Until now, The UOS Times has emphasized that exercising is a very important factor in being healthy and that people should appreciate that they need proper guidelines for working out. However, many students still think that a regular workout is difficult for those who cannot make the minimum time for exercising. To make exercise become as much a part of students’ daily routines as having lunch between classes, UOS should consider the following suggestions.
One way to make a more suitable environment for exercising can be increasing the number of liberal Physical Education (P.E.) classes. For those of us who find it difficult to exercise daily due to lack of time, P.E. class can be helpful in increasing our interest in sports and motivate us to habitually exercise in our daily lives. Seung-hye Baek (Dept. of Environmental Engineering, ’14) is the perfect example of a student who has incorporated sports into her life after taking a school class. Baek said that she took a climbing class last year because she had wanted to learn active sports since she entered the university.
This motivated her to exercise regularly and she continued to climb twice a week even when she went on an exchange program in the U.S. She said, “After participating in climbing class, I now have an interest in exercise and do pilates and yoga for my health.” Among Liberal Arts Education in UOS, 14 classes dealing with sports have been opened in the first semester of 2016 and each class covers different topics and sports from theoretical approaches to practical ones dealing with weight training, pilates, soccer, and even broadcasting dance. Now, 685 registered students take these classes but the number of students who are actually in classes that teach sports is less than half of that number, 293. There may be some students who take more than one P.E. class, so the actual number of attendees may be significantly lower than 293. From the survey conducted by The UOS Times, many UOS students argued that they wanted to sign up for the sports classes but the capacity of each class was too small, so that they could not enroll in the courses during registration periods. If UOS makes more sports classes for students, the amount of those who routinely exercise can be higher and it would improve the physical fitness of UOS students.
In addition, to check whether the fitness of each student has improved or not, an institutional system needs to exist in UOS. Every year, the UOS Health Center conducts medical examinations for freshmen. In addition, the center measures blood pressure, blood sugar levels to prevent diseases before they occur. However, there are no checkups for physical strength or exercise status, not only in the freshmen medical examination, but also in the medical examination for UOS students enrolled in the center’s services. For students, it is not easy to know where to check their physical fitness and how to manage their health in detail. If the school provides guidelines to UOS students periodically in a similar way as they provide medical examinations for freshmen, students can easily know their true body condition and receive feedback frequently. The UOS Health Center now collaborates with Dongdaemun Health Center and provides Smoking Clinics to students who want to quit smoking. The Integrated Health Promotion Center in Dongdaemun Health Center can measure the fitness of any visitors. Therefore, UOS can join hands with the Dongdaemun Health Center for checking students’ health condition by utilizing the Integrated Health Promotion Center.
If this approach is inconvenient, using school facilities, especially the Wellness Center, might be a more practical solution for checking the status of students’ health. There are many useful facilities such as the Fitness Center, other indoor courts, and various physical activity programs provided through the Wellness Center for students at reasonable costs. In addition, there are two personal trainers working in the center and an InBody testing machine which can determine the present health status of any registered members. Presently, those who register with the Wellness Center can use the machine only after asking the manager or trainers. If UOS extends permission of using the machine and makes good use of its environment, UOS can be a place which can provide an opportunity for people to know their own current physical condition and get advice about personal health management from experts.
The Primary Guideline for Students: Emphasizing the Importance of P.E.
Finally, UOS can make physical activity courses a graduation requirement for students. In the same way that UOS has made community service a graduation requirement for all students who have entered the university since 2015, UOS can also make P.E. courses mandatory. From an interview with a manager in the Department of Liberal Physical Education, he insisted that the members of UOS do not recognize the importance of P.E. Other educationally developed countries have already made P.E. a mandatory requirement and have administered relevant systems for it.
However, since the university stresses on short-term accomplishments, liberal P.E., which is important for students in the long term, is now lagging behind. As a part of extended efforts for emphasizing the importance of P.E., the Department of Sports Science has continuously tried to make P.E. courses a graduation requirement for several years and they changed the credit of Liberal P.E. classes from zero to one. He said, “At first, the Department of Liberal Arts opened zero-credit liberal P.E. classes to try to lower the amount of classes taught by part-time lecturers and relieve the mental burden of students caused by academic pressure so that classes could benefit students both physically and mentally. However, opposite to its intention, the class participation of students was lower than the department expected and attendees easily gave up.”
Unlike Korea, many universities in the U.S., including Cornell University require undergraduates to take physical education before graduation. Cited from the website of Cornell, students should take courses offered by the Department of Athletics and Physical Education by participating in an intercollegiate athletic team, or marching band during the first two terms at Cornell. Colgate University also states that students must take indoor or outdoor courses from the Public Health Engineering Department to earn credits for required physical education. In the past, many colleges in the U.S. required students to pass a swimming test before graduation. However, nowadays, few universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Harvard University, have retained swimming as a part of graduation conditions, although most have replaced it with the option of participating in physical education courses or taking part in campus sports teams. This shows that even though prestigious colleges of the U.S. have maintained their traditionally required physical education courses, the common reason of connecting physical exercising with acquiring a diploma is that they recognize that students’ physical fitness is related to personal well-being and other important parts of campus life.
If it is impossible for UOS to make new sports classes because of a lack of an institutional system or budget, it can be a good idea to make students participate in at least one sports club of Central Club before graduation so that they can become familiar with certain sports. This would be helpful in fostering broader relationships with their peers in other departments and developing their physical fitness. Another solution could be to make the evaluation system of physical education courses in the form of Pass or Fail (P/F), not in the form of formal grades. If implemented, students may not feel burdened for earning required credits of physical education, and instead they could enjoy a sport for their own sake.
Currently, UOS students are so young that they do not regard physical health as one of their main concerns. However, the cost of neglecting the value of exercise may seriously threaten their future health. If they develop even a small amount of interest in exercising and make it a habitual activity in their daily life, it will bring endless changes to them not only in the short term but in the long term as well. What they need for good health now is to do something for their own sake. After taking this first step for better health, it may be easy to include exercise as a part of their lives.